For the first time, absentee drop boxes are in play for New Hampshire’s 2020 elections

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 10/23/2020 5:43:48 PM
Modified: 10/23/2020 5:43:38 PM

Less than two weeks from the 2020 general election, New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said in a recent Zoom call that he believes about 30% of New Hampshire voters will ultimately cast their ballots via the absentee voting process. 

    “It is a fairly easy process for the states to follow through and we would recommend and suggest and encourage all voters to participate in this election,” Scanlon said of the absentee process.

To streamline the absentee ballot return process and minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19, New Hampshire voters will have the opportunity to utilize a voting tool new to elections in the Granite State- municipal absentee ballot drop boxes.

    On Friday, July 17, Gov. Chris Sununu signed into law New Hampshire House Bill 1266, legislation that aims to expand the election process to accommodate voter needs relative to the coronavirus pandemic, including establishing the allowance of absentee drop boxes. 

    Per the bill’s text, New Hampshire House Bill 1266 is an act “making temporary modifications to the absentee voter registration, absentee ballot application, and absentee voting processes in response to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) disease.” 

    With the threat of COVID-19 and recent slashes to the United States Postal Service elongating the length of time mail takes to travel, New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner appointed a Select Committee on 2020 Emergency Election Support, one which recommended absentee drop boxes, amongst other voting necessities, specifically for the New Hampshire state and general 2020 elections. 

    The committee’s report, submitted to Gardner on June 5, states: “Therefore, the Committee agreed that a drop box would likely be beneficial as long as its function was under the supervision of the town clerk, it was secure, and its access was limited to the town clerk.” 

    Scanlan said Monday, “The benefit of having a dropbox is that it allows satellite locations to be set up in a town or city where absentee ballots can be received. Or, if a clerk’s office is still closed because of the COVID(-19) situation, it just makes it a more convenient place for a voter to drop off an absentee ballot.” 

    Drop boxes are often used at municipal offices throughout the state for a variety of town or city clerk needs, such as for when residents need to drop off a payment or for returning driver’s license renewal information. 

    Scanlan explained that the approved drop boxes for absentee ballots must be staffed by a municipal employee in order to verify the identity of the person dropping off the ballot, no matter if it’s the voter themselves or a delivery agent dropping off another resident’s completed ballot. 

    In the case of a delivery agent dropping off an absentee ballot for someone else, whether it’s to a drop box or to the city clerk themselves, they must provide identification and sign an affidavit acknowledging their delivery agent status.

    “So, that requirement does not go away and therefore a dropbox that’s used to receive absentee ballots has to have a member of the clerk’s office present so that they can physically receive it and check their credentials,” he said Monday.

    Whether or not a town or city needs to implement absentee drop boxes at municipal offices, however, is completely up the discretion of local officials. 

    Some smaller municipalities in New Hampshire are citing staffing as reasons they are not taking advantage of the temporary drop box provisions.

    Alison Gage, Sandwich’s Town Clerk, is one such local leader deciding the municipality has no need for drop boxes. 

    “It’s a staffing issue… I have basically 400 of my 500 absentee ballots (that) have been returned,” she said Monday.

    Sunapee Town Clerk Betty Ramspott expressed similar sentiments, saying that as of Friday, Oct. 16, of the town’s 3,134 currently registered voters, over 600 ballots have been sent out to those wishing to vote absentee. 

    “We don’t have staff to do (that), so we are asking people to drop that back to us,” Ramspott said Monday. 

On top of not possessing the staffing means to monitor a drop box outside Sunapee’s town hall, Ramspott said that they had already received 79% of requested absentee ballots from voters in the town delivered to her office in person or by mail. 

The subject of drop boxes stole the national election spotlight earlier this month when, on Monday, Oct. 12, members of California’s Republican Party admitted to setting up fake absentee voting drop boxes throughout three counties in the state, according to a New York Times article.

Members of the California’s GOP have argued that they are within their rights according to state election law to collect the ballots. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that a judge in Sacramento rejected the California Attorney General’s argument that state Republican officials behind the fake dropbox operations should disclose information of their efforts to state officials.

Scanlan said that New Hampshire election officials have not faced similar issues in this election cycle. 

“If a voter does see a suspicious drop box out there they should let the Secretary of State’s office or the Attorney General’s office know about it very quickly,” he said.

As of Oct. 20, the Secretary of State’s office reported that 200,834 Granite Staters have requested an absentee ballot for the general election to date, with 136,137 having been returned already. 

Scanlan recommended that those voting absentee, regardless of whether they deliver it in person to their local clerk, drop box or submit it by mail, to use the ballot tracker tool on the Secretary of State’s website for updates.

    The Select Committee on 2020 Emergency Election Support’s June 5 report states its findings and recommendations for absentee drop boxes and other general election needs are imperative to the welfare of the state and the nation.

    “It is not overly dramatic to say that unless New Hampshire and all other states get this right this year, the future of our nation and world could be affected, forever,” committee members wrote.

Further information on voting in New Hampshire for the 2020 general election can be found at the Secretary of State’s website.

 

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org. 

    

    

 

    

 

 




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