On the trail: Surge in absentee ballot requests by N.H. voters

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (left) and Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan oversee the recount at the State Archives in Concord on Friday, November 16, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

For the Monitor 
Published: 10/2/2020 4:28:31 PM

The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office says that just over 148,000 absentee ballots for the general election have been requested as of this week.

That’s a record-breaking number and already double the roughly 75,000 absentee ballots that were cast in the 2016 election.

What’s not known yet is the breakdown between the number of Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters, who’ve requested ballots.

With President Donald Trump railing against moves by states to make voting by mail easier due to health concerns over in-person voting at polling stations amid the coronavirus pandemic, and charging that widespread mail-in balloting would lead to voter fraud and a “rigged election,” Democrats have been outpacing Republicans when it comes to absentee balloting.

“It’s safe to say that there are more Democrats requesting absentee ballots than Republicans. That was certainly true in the state primary election on Sept. 8 and I’m not aware of a situation that would cause that trend to any different,” Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan told the Monitor.

Granite Staters can request an absentee ballot until 5 p.m. on the day before the Nov. 3 election.

“It’s still too early to tell” how many total absentee ballot requests they may get, Scanlan said. “If you look back at the number of absentee ballots that were cast in the state primary election, it was just under 30% and just over 70% of the voters showed up in person at the polls.”

Scanlan has no concerns about running out of absentee ballots. More than 1 million ballots have been printed for the general election – for both in-person voting at the poll and for absentee balloting.

A poll released this week by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center indicated that 73% of voters said they planned to cast their ballot in person, with 24% saying they would cast an absentee ballot. Thirty-nine percent of Democrats said they’d vote by absentee ballot. That figure drops to 26% among independents and 9% among Republicans.

Scanlan said that ballots have to be received by the clerk by 5 p.m. the day of the election, either through the mail or by dropping them off at selected polling places across the state that have official ballot boxes.

Thanks to a bill passed at the end of June by state lawmakers, pre-processing of the ballots can be performed on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Monday before the election.

“That allows the moderators and clerks to open the outer envelope and look at the affidavit envelope that actually contains the ballot and make sure the voter signed the affidavit and make sure everything else is in order,” Scanlan said. “If they find defects, they have an opportunity to contact the voter so the defect can be cured.”

Officials will start counting absentee ballots when the polls close on Election Day.

Poll position

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden retains his single-digit advantage over President Trump in New Hampshire, according to two new polls released this week.

The former vice president is ahead of Trump by a 52%-45% margin in an Emerson College poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday, entirely after Tuesday’s first presidential debate between the two candidates. And Biden topped the president 53%-44% in a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll conducted Sept. 24-28, ahead of the debate. Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen registered at less than one percent in the UNH survey.

For a generation, New Hampshire’s been considered one of the handful of general election battleground states that decide the winner of the presidential election. Four years ago, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton edged Trump by a razor-thin margin to capture the state’s four electoral votes.

In the state’s U.S. Senate race, the Emerson survey indicates Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is leading GOP challenger Bryant “Corky” Messner 55%-40%. And the UNH poll showed Shaheen up 54%-41%, with Libertarian candidate Justin O’Donnell at 2%. The former three-term governor is running for a third six-year term representing the Granite State in the Senate.

In New Hampshire’s gubernatorial showdown, the UNH poll indicates Republican Gov. Chris Sununu leading state Senate majority leader Dan Feltes 55%-37%, with Libertarian Darryl Perry at 1%. The Emerson College poll puts Sununu up 55%-40% over his Democratic challenger. Sununu is running for a third two-year term in the Corner Office.

The UNH poll shows Rep. Annie Kuster leading former state Rep. Steve Negron 48%-42% in a rematch in New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District. Libertarian candidate A.J. Olding is at 5%. Kuster, who lives in Hopkinton, is running to represent the district for a fifth straight two-year term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the 1st Congressional District, the UNH survey puts Democratic first-term Rep. Chris Pappas ahead of GOP challenger Matt Mowers 56%-38%, with Libertarian Zachary Dumont at 2%.

Haley’s multi-purpose New Hampshire swing

Nikki Haley, a former GOP governor of South Carolina who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the first two years of President Trump’s tenure in the White House, campaigned for the president and fellow Republicans in battleground New Hampshire on Wednesday and Thursday.

Haley teamed up with former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte to raise money for state House of Representatives Republicans and headlined campaign events for Messner and Mowers.

Mowers told the Monitor that Haley’s appearance on his behalf shows that “our message is resonating.”

“Folks of Ambassador Haley’s caliber don’t come unless they think we have a shot to win,” he said.

Haley’s also considered a potential contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination and stopping in the state that’s known for holding the first primary in the race for the White House sparked more speculation about her possible national ambitions in 2024.

But Haley told the Monitor that it was far too early for such talk, emphasizing that “it would be foolish to look at a presidential race in 2024 when a year is a lifetime in politics.”

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