CONCORD — In the last presidential election, 10 percent of New Hampshire voters, or about 75,000 people, cast absentee ballots. This year, that number could go significantly higher, complicating the vote count, Secretary of State William M. Gardner said in an interview Thursday.
Training and support are being given to local election officials to ensure a smooth process.
More absentee ballots are expected because some people may be fearful of going to polling places given the coronavirus epidemic. Gov. Chris Sununu has stated that anybody wishing to vote absentee over concerns about the virus may do so this year.
Those wishing to vote absentee must fill out a form and return it to their local municipal clerk, who will send them an absentee ballot. The form lists “disability” as one of the reasons for seeking an absentee ballot. Concerns over contracting the virus at a polling place qualify under the disability criteria.
“The idea is anyone who has any concern about their own health or safety, can vote by absentee,” Gardner said. “All households in the state of New Hampshire will get a post card, an information piece explaining this.”
Even though voting officials expect a higher-than-normal number of absentee ballots, they will have about the same number of polling places to ensure a smooth operation and reasonable lines, Gardner said.
States that have closed polling places this election cycle in anticipation of a large absentee vote have found this to be a mistake. Large numbers of voters showed up at polling places and had to wait in line for hours, he said.
Absentee ballots must arrive at the local clerk’s office by 5 p.m. on the day of the election in order to count.
They are counted on election night just like any other ballot, but they take longer to handle because each ballot envelope must be opened in a public process before being fed into the optical scanner machine for vote tabulation.
“You’re still running them through the machine, but it is more time consuming,” said Laconia City Clerk Cheryl Hebert. “You're opening envelopes, announcing the voter as if they were standing in front of you, marking them off the check list and giving the ballot to the person running them through the machine.”
New Hampshire residents who need to register to vote can do so at local clerk’s office, or at a polling site on election day. College students who live in New Hampshire can register and vote in the state.
The primary election is set for Sept. 8 and the general election is Nov. 3.
Gardner said day-of-voting registration contributes to New Hampshire having some of the highest voter turnout figures in the nation, even eclipsing some states that use vote by mail as the standard election system.
In the 2016 presidential election, New Hampshire’s turnout among voting age population for the highest office on the ballot was 69.1 percent, behind only Maine and Minnesota, each with 69.4 percent.
On the Web:
New Hampshire State Elections Division (voting forms): https://sos.nh.gov/Elections.aspx
Town and city clerks: http://sos.nh.gov/VoteInforLook.aspx
Frequently asked questions:
Who can register to vote?
New Hampshire inhabitants who will be 18 years of age or older on the day of the next election, and a United States citizen. There is no minimum period of time you are required to have lived in the state before registering to vote. You may register as soon as you move into your new community.
If I attend college in New Hampshire, can I register to vote?
Yes. To register, you will need to provide proof of your identity, age, citizenship, and New Hampshire domicile. Proof can be either by documents or if you do not have documents with you, by affidavit. Documents can include a rent or utility receipt or a document from your school showing your address.
Where do I register to vote?
You may apply to your town or city clerk's office.
You may also register with your community's Supervisors of the Checklist. By law, the supervisors meet once, 6-13 days before each state election. Check your town/city website or call your clerk's office for the date, time, and location of the Supervisor's meeting.
Qualified individuals may register to vote, at any election, at their polling place on election day.
No matter when or where you register to vote, you will be required to fill out a New Hampshire voter registration form. You will be asked to show proof of identity, age, citizenship and domicile. This proof may be shown in paper or electronic form. If you do not have proof with you when registering, these qualifications may be established by signing affidavit(s).
Can I register absentee?
If you meet the state's qualifications and are unable to register in person because of disability or temporary absence, you may register by mail. You should request an absentee voter registration affidavit, New Hampshire voter registration form, and instructions from your town or city clerk. The completed absentee voter registration affidavit must be witnessed. You must return the completed affidavit, voter registration form, and copies of documents showing evidence of qualifications to your town or city clerk.
When is the last day I can register before a state election?
You may register at your polling place on election day. Before the election, the last day to register is the last meeting of the Supervisors of the Checklist. By law, the supervisors meet once, 6-13 days before each state election. Check your town/city website, or call your clerk's office for the date, time, and location of the Supervisor's meeting.
Do I have to register for each election?
No. Once you have registered in your town or city ward, your name is added to the checklist for that town/ward for all future elections. If you move your domicile to a different town or ward, you will need to re-register in your new town/ward.