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My Turn: Standardized poll times would boost turnout

Last modified: 11/13/2014 1:05:09 AM
We hear during every election, “Get out the vote!” But as I stood in line with at least 20 other voters on Nov. 4 waiting for my poll in Portsmouth to open at 8 a.m., I wondered how many voters could not vote because of time constraints. My job prohibited me from being able to make the Portsmouth poll closing at 7 p.m., and I had only a small window of time to vote in the morning.

To my surprise, I found out polling hours vary significantly in New Hampshire.

Manchester voters could vote from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., while voters in South Hampton had only 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. to vote. By New Hampshire statute, polls are required to be open by 11 a.m. and must remain open until at least 7 p.m.

A fellow New Hampshire voter said the voting hours are arbitrarily made by cities and towns, similar to how “trick-or-treat hours are made for Halloween.” There is some truth to what this citizen said, as state law says: “In cities, the city council shall determine the polling hours no later than 30 days prior to a state election.” Towns can change polling hours by voting at annual town meetings and placing the change proposal as a ballot question.

The bottom line here is simple: Let’s have a fair and balanced election in New Hampshire and have polling hours the same across the state. I suggest the polling hours be 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Hours such as these should meet most folks’ busy lifestyles and more citizens could get out the vote.

Okay, you say, folks with work commitments should vote by absentee ballot. The problem is they likely cannot make it to town halls to vote in person by absentee ballot because they are working during the time the town halls are open, too! These citizens are advised to send in an absentee ballot by mail. But get this: By New Hampshire law, absentee ballot “envelopes shall . . . be destroyed, unopened and unexamined” if they are received after 5 p.m. on election day.

Really? Why is a citizen’s right to vote being destroyed? Some of these absentee ballots are coming from overseas military, and the mail certainly could get delayed for a number of reasons. Why not have absentee ballots recorded as long as the ballot is postmarked before or even on the day of the election?

And what about our military members and their ability to vote in elections? This veteran can tell you that when I served, it was not easy to cast a vote. Today, with the internet, it should be easier, but voter turnout by the military is still alarmingly low.

According to the Council for State Governments, in the 2012 presidential election, 58.7 percent of registered stateside voters cast their ballots successfully, but only 12.7 percent of eligible registered U.S. military and overseas voters actually returned ballots.

In New Hampshire, military members sending in absentee ballots must even sign an oath for “UOCAVA Voters” as stated in RSA 657:8. Why is the oath already taken by all those who serve in our military to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies” not enough?

There have been federal efforts to help improve military voting but they have been marred in bureaucratic red tape. Absentee voting for the military is in dire need to be streamlined.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte made several visits to Ukraine this year to participate as an “election observer.” My suggestion to Ayotte and in fact all New Hampshire lawmakers is that we need to improve our voting system here before meddling in the affairs of other countries.

Let’s have New Hampshire – with its proud tradition of being “First in the Nation” for voting in presidential elections – be a real leader in improving elections and voter turnout.

(John Meinhold lives in Portsmouth.)


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