Absentee ballots cannot be left in town hall drop-off boxes after hours

  • FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo a voter casts her mail-in ballot at in a drop box in West Chester, Pa., prior to the primary election. Just over four months before Election Day, President Donald Trump is escalating his efforts to delegitimize the upcoming presidential election. Last week he made a claim that 2020 will be “the most corrupt election in the history of our country." (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File) Matt Rourke

Monitor staff
Published: 8/15/2020 3:02:15 PM

Amid uncertainties about mailing absentee ballots caused by President Trump’s financial squeeze of the U.S. Postal Service just before the election, voters might be tempted to swing by their local clerk’s office and leave their ballot in the drop-off box.

Don’t.

Unless the clerk’s office is open and you physically hand your ballot to an official, it might not get counted.

This advice is a little confusing because there doesn’t seem to be much difference between taking the official envelope containing your ballot and placing it in a mailbox with a stamp, vs. pushing it through a mail slot at city hall without a stamp.

But state law is clear: the first is allowed and the second isn’t.

“It never has been an option” to leave a ballot at town or city hall after hours, said Dave Scanlan, deputy Secretary of State for New Hampshire. Some states allow official drop-off boxes for completed ballots but New Hampshire is not one of them.

If an employee in a clerk’s office finds a ballot that was left overnight, they’ll try to contact the voter and confirm that it is legitimate, Secretary of State Bill Gardner said. But there’s no guarantees since it’s possible only if the voter has included a phone number or email address on the ballot, which is not mandated.

Leaving the ballot in a drop-off box seems like it would make sense because many town and city clerks have reduced hours due to the pandemic, making it harder to hand off a ballot in person. Adding to possible confusion, state law (RSA 657:6) allows people to drop off their application to receive a ballot at town or city hall after hours – they just can’t drop off the completed ballot itself.

The New Hampshire Constitution’s Article 11 has long allowed people to vote by absentee ballot. The number of people doing so is expected to be much larger this year because the Legislature added concern about COVID-19 infection as a reason for not voting in person.

Previously, absentee voting was allowed only if you attested that you would be absent on Election Day or “by reason of physical disability are unable to vote in person,” the two grounds for getting an absentee ballot listed in the state constitution.

New Hampshire allowed absentee voting only in state or local elections until 1942, when voters amended the constitution to expand it to general elections, and then 1956 when voters amended it again to allow absentee voting in primary elections. 

Two efforts to amend the constitution and expand the reasons for absentee voting were rejected in the past, said Gardner. That was part of the argument used by some legislators who opposed allowing people to cite COVID-19 as a reason to vote by absentee.

Even before the pandemic, rules around absentee voting had been loosened. Notably, the Legislature allowed other people, known as “delivery agents” in RSA 657:17, to hand off the ballot from a “blind voter or voter with a disability” to clerks.

“That was the first time a voter was allowed to transfer their responsibility (for delivering a ballot) to another individual,” Scanlan said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)



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