My Turn: Let’s make these voting changes permanent

For the Monitor
Published: 1/14/2021 6:20:17 AM

Just last year, New Hampshire celebrated our 100th anniversary as the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state. It is a privilege we cherish, and it is an integral part of our longstanding tradition of robust civic engagement.

The unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 have forced all of us to re-evaluate the way we live, work, and conduct business here in New Hampshire, and that includes the way we vote.

These challenges have highlighted the things that are working well, like same-day voter registration, voter eligibility requirements, and the dedicated work of our local election officials. Beyond that, this crisis has also highlighted the things we must improve upon as we move forward.

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, it became clear that changes needed to be made to the way we administer our elections. With the input and collaboration of state and local election officials, changes were made to our 2020 voting process through House Bill 1266 to ensure that every qualified voter had the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, despite the dangers presented by the pandemic.

One of the most frequently requested changes included allowing election officials to partially pre-process absentee ballots prior to election day, saving time and shortening wait lines for voters at the polls.

Another notable change was made to allow any voter to vote absentee for any reason. Previously, in order to vote by absentee in New Hampshire, a voter had to have a statutorily accepted excuse for why they couldn’t vote in-person at the polls on election day, such as a restrictive physical disability.

By allowing Granite Staters to cite COVID-19 as their reason for voting absentee, we put public health at the forefront and ensured secure, expanded access to our elections. The outcome speaks for itself – nearly one-third of all votes cast in the record-breaking November election were cast by absentee ballot and New Hampshire stood out once again as a national example.

While the pandemic played a significant role in the increased use of absentee ballots, we cannot ignore the fact that expanded access to absentee voting is the solution to a long-standing problem.

Long before this pandemic, eligible New Hampshire voters faced a choice on election day, a choice between exercising their right to vote and honoring their commitments to work schedules, child-care needs, or because the immediate needs of a loved one came first.

By making no-excuse absentee voting a permanent option for all voters, we can ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to participate in secure and fair elections.

Here in New Hampshire, our elections are run by local officials who are elected by their friends and neighbors. Their work is not easy, and it is done out of a commitment to New Hampshire’s widely recognized reputation for conducting fair and transparent elections.

Even in the face of significant changes to the process, the success of this year’s elections is due to the resilience and flexibility of these committed officials, for which we are hugely grateful. The Legislature has listened to the feedback from these election officials, and now we need to take the next step to ensure there is always an opportunity for people to have reliable access to voting, not just during times of COVID-19 or weather emergencies.

The right to vote is one of our most cherished rights, and it needs to be readily accessible to all of our constituents. This session, I am proud to put forth legislation to make these critical changes permanent to ensure that New Hampshire continues to be known for its fair, well-run elections.

(Donna Soucy of Manchester represents District 18 in the New Hampshire Senate.)

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