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What to expect on Election Day in New Hampshire 

  • An absentee ballot is opened at the Canterbury Town Clerk office on Monday, November 2, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Canterbury town moderator Edward LeClair opens an absentee ballot to be cross-referenced onto the checklist to prevent duplicate voting at the polls on Election Day. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 11/2/2020 4:40:00 PM

Record turnout, COVID “sneeze guards,” and stacks of mail-in ballots: The 2020 Election Day will contain plenty of firsts.

Up and down the Granite State on Tuesday, votes in this year’s presidential election will be counted in the throes of an eight-month pandemic, alongside potentially unprecedented voter enthusiasm and anxiety.

But for all that’s different this year, there’s a remarkable amount about the election in New Hampshire that will unfold exactly as it always has.

Here’s a look at what to expect throughout Election Day.


Depending on the town you live in, Election Day could start bright and early or begin more like a lazy morning. Under New Hampshire law, towns and cities can start any time they want, as long as they do so by 11 a.m. and as long as they give proper notice.

Whenever the polling place is open for business, voters may arrive to line up. Whether or not a mask is required to enter the polling place is up to the town moderator.

According to guidance from the Attorney General’s Office, a moderator may require masks be worn, but if they do so, they must also provide an alternative voting process for those who are unable or unwilling to wear a mask. For many towns, that alternative process will likely mean the voter fills out his or her ballot outside in a separate voting area.

As for the record numbers of absentee ballots, those will be counted on Election Day too – but moderators must wait an hour after the polls begin to start doing so. This means if you’ve submitted an absentee ballot and wish to vote in person, and even change your vote, you may do so in the first hour of voting. Any voters entering to vote in that hour-long period may negate the vote they submitted before.

Once the absentee ballot counting process begins, poll-workers will start with the inner envelope, which features on the outside an affidavit from the voter stating their reasons for voting absentee. The town officials will match that voter’s name to the checklist of registered voters, check the voter off on the list, open the inner envelope, and submit the ballot to the ballot box.

It’s the same check-off process as if the person had walked in and voted. The absentee ballots are just processed an hour later than the walk-in voters.


As the day goes on, poll workers will be racing to address the lines of voters and work through the stack of absentee ballots.

This process was made easier by a law passed by the Legislature this summer allowing towns to “pre-process” the ballots. This meant that up to five days before the election, town officials were able to check the outside of the ballots to make sure voters included everything necessary on their affidavit, including and especially their signature. Any voters missing crucial pieces could then be contacted by the town clerk before Election Day to correct the mistake.

With that initial inspection out of the way, the process for election workers on Tuesday should be much faster. Poll-workers will likely work where they have a lull in voters and enough staff to handle to processing of the ballots.

Due to the new partial-processing rules, New Hampshire towns will likely by and large make good time when it comes to absentee ballots. Unlike states such as Pennsylvania, whose absentee ballot counting process is expected to carry on well after the polls close, many towns in New Hampshire expect to be finished with the bulk of absentee ballots by the afternoon – well before the polls close to walk-in traffic.

At 5 p.m., no city or town may accept absentee ballots, whether by mail or by people hand-delivering them. At that point, those who haven’t voted will need to vote in person. Voters may check the status of their ballot by calling the town clerk.


In most towns and cities in New Hampshire, the polls close at 7. In some, they close at 8. Once the polls do close, the moderators will begin the count of ballots.

At this point, both absentee ballots and walk-in ballots will be in the same pile. If the town uses a voting machine to tally ballots, officials will run through a preliminary, unofficial count and print it out on a tape for the public and press to view.

The moderator will need to compare the total numbers of votes recorded by the town with the number of votes recorded by the machine. It is possible that some votes may be over or under counted, depending on the machine. Those ballots would need to be verified by hand.

If the town does not have a machine, a hand count will begin.

Town officials will also need to count and record write-in votes, a time-consuming process.

Depending on the town, it could be a long counting event, particularly given the expected record turnout this year. But New Hampshire law requires that towns must continuously count the ballots without breaks, and most towns expect to be able to carry out that count by late night or early morning.

Meanwhile, throughout the voting and the counting – from the opening of polls in the morning to final ballots counted at night– members of the public are allowed to observe. As long as they do not intimidate voters or wear campaign gear, and stay behind the “rail,” or the area where the voting itself takes place, they may watch voters be checked off and they may watch absentee ballots be processed. They may also challenge voters they believe do not qualify to vote in the town, whether because of age, nationality or domicile.

Once the moderators have checked off the counting process and accounted for every ballot and write-in choice, they will fill out a “Return of Vote” form for the Secretary of State’s Office with the final tallies for all races. That form will be picked up by New Hampshire State Police early in the morning Wednesday, and submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office by 8 a.m.

The office will then tabulate the official results for all towns and certify them – a process that will likely take several days, just like every other election year. But night-of tallies from the Associated Press mean the public will likely know the winner of most races by sunrise Wednesday.

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