It seems all the worry and preparation paid off: Voting was pretty routine

  • A sign outside Ward 5 in Concord lists all the new regulations on Tuesday, September 8, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 9/9/2020 5:00:55 PM

Absentee ballots flooded in, long-established routines were changed, masks were everywhere and close contact was virtually nowhere. Despite all the changes, the first statewide election in the pandemic was most notable for not being terribly notable.

“It went much better than what we expected. Although we didn’t know what to expect, actually,” said Mridula Naik, town clerk in Bow.

“It was pretty much a normal election except for the fact that … everything was a little more spread out, everything took a little more time,” said Charlie Niebling, the moderator in Boscawen.

One big concern was voter protests against mask-wearing mandates, which were instituted by many moderators. If they happened, they were rare.

“I don’t remember seeing one person without (a mask). Sometimes they pulled them down a little bit, but they had them,” said Wendy Young, town clerk in Loudon.

The only clothing-related incident that drew much attention occurred in Exeter, when a woman was told she couldn’t wear her anti-Trump T-shirt into the polling place because it was political advertising. So she removed it and voted topless, then put it back on and left.

Nothing of that nature was reported in the Concord region.

The Attorney General’s office reported 125 calls or e-mails about various issues during the day, compared to 163 during this year’s Presidential Primary.

“The vast majority of issues were resolved on Tuesday by working directly with local election officials or voters. Some of the issues require follow-up after the election,” according to a press release.

Many communities moved or altered their traditional polling place to give more space for social distancing. In Loudon, for example, voting takes place in the fire station. Usually, several fire trucks are kept indoors but this year they were all taken outside to let the voting process spread out.

Boscawen moved its voting from the basement of the Congregation Church, a tradition-rich but space-poor setting, to the gym of the elementary school.

As encouraged by the state, most polling places had prepared a method for people to vote outside if they declined to wear a mask.

“We had maybe half a dozen folks who refused to comply. We had procedures to allow those folks to vote outside, they went off without a hitch,” said Niebling. “They were being quite principled about their views but they were understanding and appreciative of the fact that we had a straightforward procedure in place.”

Bow had similar procedures in place.

“A few voted outside – they couldn’t come in, didn’t want to vote wearing a mask,” said Naik.

As for absentee ballots, statewide numbers are still being tallied by the Secretary of State’s office but anecdotal reports make it seem likely that a record-setting percentage of votes were absentee.

In Loudon, for example, 481 of 1,584 votes, or 30%, were absentee ballots sent in advance. That’s a huge number, Young said: “200 is lot for us.”

Bow was roughly the same, with about 845 absentee ballots compared to roughly 1,600 people voting in person.

State rules were amended this year to allow pre-processing of absentee ballots that had been received in advance, opening the outer envelope and checking voter registration, leaving only the inner envelope and counting of the ballot for election day.

Boscawen chose not to pre-process its 172 absentee ballots – 20% of the town-wide total – but Niebling said they’ll probably do it differently at the general election.

“Assuming we’re still dealing with COVID-related restrictions …. in November, we will definitely do pre-processing of absentee ballots. It is time-consuming,” he said, saying the absentee ballots took about four hours to process. He expects at least double the turnout in November.

In many ways, Tuesday’s party primary was a dress rehearsal for the Nov. 3 election. Clerks, moderators and other election officials will be looking at what worked and what didn’t as they prepare for the onslaught.

“We’re still looking, still trying to figure it out,” said Naik, although they know at least one thing: “We will definitely have an extra line” for voter check-in.

Young, in Loudon, noted a bright spot. “One thing that is going to be really good – there are not going to be two separate ballots. We won’t have any confusion about voters who say they didn’t want this one, they wanted that one. That makes it a lot easier.”

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


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