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Many things will be different at Tuesday’s voting

  • City worker Ed Bisson sets up the voting booths at Ward 8 at the Bektash Shrine Center on Pembroke Road in Concord on Friday morning in anticipation of Tuesday’s primary voting. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/5/2020 9:53:04 PM

New Hampshire voters are a hardy lot who think they’ve seen everything, but even the most experienced of ballot-markers should be prepared for surprises at Tuesday’s party primary.

“We’ve all been working pretty much all summer long to figure out how to do this election,” said Peter Isme, town moderator in Bow. Isme, who has been overseeing elections for 22 years, added: “I’ve never seen anything like it, for so many reasons.”

The cause, of course, is COVID-19 and requirements for social distancing, no sharing of materials and wearing of face masks, compounded by record levels of advance voting and a reluctance of many election volunteers to risk spending all day amid crowds in polling areas.

“Most towns have their group of people who have worked elections for years and years, they know what to do … Unfortunately, this year a lot of those folks are saying no, thanks, I appreciate not working this year,” said Isme.

As a result, it’s almost certain that voting will take longer than usual. Voters should be ready for that, and for changes in the procedures they’ve gotten used to.

Virtually all polling places have changed their layout for this election, creating one-way paths for voters, spreading out booths, installing “sneeze guards” for poll workers, and tweaking sign-up procedures. Voters will usually have to place their own ballot into ballot-counting machines or into ballot boxes for hand-counted towns, rather than handing them to poll workers as has usually been done in the past.

Another difference is that each voter will be given a separate pen for one-time use, and a pad to place under their ballot while filling out the little ovals to reduce the chance of a virus spreading from the previous voter in a voting booth.

The state has sent out hundreds of thousands of pens and pads to polling places.

“The allocation, I think it’s the presidential primary (voting tally) plus 10%, something like that. We’ll have to re-evaluate our supplies after the primary to see if we’re going to do any adjustments for November,” said Howard Pearl, town moderator for Loudon.

Using federal funds, the state is providing masks, gloves, sanitizer and other PPE, including some gowns, for poll workers who will almost always be using them all. Voters are another matter.

“Masks have been the biggest issue of all. There’s a huge divergence of opinion on masks; some moderators think they’re not going to require them and others will,” said Isme. “Based on moderator discussion, it looks like more will be requiring masks in polling places than not.”

Moderators appear to have the final say about mask-wearing in a polling place, even when held in a place where masks are normally mandatory such as a school.

Isme said Bow will require that voters wear masks because its Community Center is too small to create separate indoor polling areas for masked voters and unmasked voters.

They don’t even have enough room in the center’s parking lot to set up an outdoor tent for unmasked voters, an alternative being used by many areas. Instead, they’ll take advantage of a ruling that allows drive-up voting. If you don’t want to wear a mask at Bow, follow the signs and stay in your car. Somebody will bring a ballot to you.

Things are better at Loudon because the fire department has moved all the engines, making the entire fire station available for voting. As a result, Pearl said, there’s enough room that voters who don’t want to wear a mask can still come inside to cast a ballot.

Pearl is a new moderator. This is his first election, which sounds intimidating.

“I’m learning it this way rather than having to learn it the other way and then relearn it. So maybe it’s not so bad to be first,” he said.

New Hampshire has unusually late party primaries; most states have already held them. That can be a problem some years because it leaves relatively little time to get ballots out for the general election, but this year it has left more time for preparation. And the relatively low turnout of primaries is also a plus.

“This becomes a practice run for the larger voting quantities that will certainly be there for the general election, in November,” said Pearl.


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

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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