With its state primary on Sept. 8, New Hampshire conducted its first voting in more than a century during which it was reasonable to wonder whether casting a ballot might be hazardous to one’s health.
Acting on concerns about COVID-19, the state distributed a couple of million federal dollars’ worth of protective equipment to local poll workers, arranged special training sessions for local election officials and allowed any voter who was worried about infection to cast an absentee ballot.
These initiatives made sense. In earlier primaries in other parts of the country the numbers of polling places had been cut, leading to lines of voters — masked and not — that caused some voters to stay home. And in some states, inadequate preparation for floods of absentee ballots led to confusion and delays in results.
But, as The Sentinel has editorialized, Granite State election officials were prepared, and the results showed it. Voters cast 304,000 ballots, up 33 percent from the 2018 state primary, and more than 90,000 absentee ballots were cast — nine times the volume in 2018. There were no significant delays in announcing results, and no challenges to their accuracy.
There were glitches, yes, but the system generally worked. For example, in a majority of cases where absentee ballots were mailed in without a required signature, local election officials were able to contact voters and set things right.
Still, granting that more can be done to assure a smooth general election Nov. 3, the N.H. Secretary of State’s Office has upped its training programs. It’s also asked for ideas about how to do things better, and local election officials are responding.
Good. Polling places will be busier in the general election than in the primary (that’s always the case), and more than 133,000 applications for absentee ballots have already been logged.
All this — the precautionary steps, the training, the expansion of absentee voting and public education efforts by voting rights groups — implicitly expresses belief that elections, even in the time of a pandemic, can be safe and accurate.
That belief exists despite unfounded claims by some national politicians that voting even in normal times is rife with fraud and that absentee voting this year will be crooked through and through. Such critics would do well to visit a polling place in New Hampshire to see how elections are actually run and how votes are counted. They would also do well to talk to election officials in other states who are gearing up for voting in November.
Meanwhile, there are steps that we in New Hampshire can take.
First anyone who plans to vote absentee should commit to acting sooner than later. In the primary, about half of such ballots were cast during the week before Sept. 8. Why wait and worry about whether a mailed ballot will arrive in time? Absentee ballots are now being mailed to registered voters who asked for one. Fill out yours today and either mail it in or walk in to your town or city clerk’s office.
Second, if you’re in good health, make time to be a volunteer poll worker. Extra hands are needed, what with new tasks such as helping some voters cast their ballots outside of enclosed polling places.
Third, prepare yourself for possible delays in hearing final voting results in November. With the extra steps that come with processing absentee ballots, it might take days to hear final tallies.
Finally, have faith in local election officials, who unlike national politicians are the people who actually run elections. Over the years these locals have shown that they’re serious, they’re trained and they care.