Memo outlines poll precautions for September primary, November general election

  • Voting stations are set up in the South Wing of the Kentucky Exposition Center for voters to cast their ballot in the Kentucky primary in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, June 23, 2020. In an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, neighborhood precincts were closed and voters that didn't cast mail in ballots were directed to one central polling location. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley) Timothy D. Easley

Published: 7/9/2020 5:24:35 PM

New Hampshire’s pollworkers will be outfitted with masks, face shields, gloves and gowns for the September primary and November general election — but local officials will need to reuse some of those items, including face masks, in both elections, according to new guidance from the Secretary of State.

Gallon-sized jugs of hand sanitizer will also be distributed as part of these Election Day safety supply kits — with a word of caution.

“Hand sanitizing before or while handling a ballot risks getting the ballot wet,” the Secretary of State’s office said, instead advising officials to offer sanitizer to voters as they exit the polling place. “Wet ballots can jam in the ballot counting device.”

This and other advice was included in a new memo, which was sent to local election officials July 6 and shared with NHPR, outlining the state’s plans for distributing protective gear across the hundreds of municipalities who are ultimately responsible for running the voting process this fall.

While New Hampshire will allow any eligible voter to cast an absentee ballot in the fall elections due to COVID-19, in-person voting at the polls will still be available in all communities during the September 8 primary and November 3 general elections.

While this new memo outlines what kind of protective gear voters and pollworkers can expect to encounter on Election Day, the state has yet to issue guidance on how to respond to individuals who object to wearing a mask inside the polling place — something that local officials have been requesting in recent weeks.

The state elections office has enlisted help from New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management to handle the actual distribution and delivery of polling place safety supplies. The state says it expects to complete the deliveries by the end of August.

The Secretary of State’s office did not respond to questions from NHPR seeking additional details on the plans to distribute the protective gear.

Paul Raymond, with the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center, confirmed that emergency management officials will be helping with this aspect of the election process but said details are still being finalized.

“HSEM regularly works with each town’s Emergency Management Director (EMD) in planning and disaster response,” Raymond wrote in an email. “So it made sense for HSEM to work with the EMDs to arrange for someone from each community to receive the PPE.”

The amount of protective gear allocated to each city and town will be based on turnout from the fall elections in 2016, with some adjustments for a possible increase in turnout this year, according to the Secretary of State’s memo. The state also plans to start with a “baseline supply for every polling place serving up to 600 expected in-person voters,” and will provide extra gear to polling places with larger numbers of voters to accommodate additional voter check-in and registration stations.

“If you believe there is a need for more,” the state told local officials, “let us know.”

The Secretary of State has not yet shared a detailed breakdown of how much polling place protective gear each community is in line to receive, based on its calculations.

The state says it will cover the costs of election-related protective gear using federal COVID-19 relief funds it received earlier this year. The CARES Act, signed by President Trump in March, distributed roughly $400 million in emergency election-related funds to help states retool their elections due to the pandemic. New Hampshire received more than $3 million.

A panel responsible for advising the Secretary of State’s office on how to spend that money and otherwise adjust plans for the fall elections released a detailed set of recommendations last month. A bill that would codify some of those recommended changes passed both the House and Senate with bipartisan approval and is awaiting action from Gov. Chris Sununu.

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



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