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When to submit your absentee ballot? As soon as possible, clerks say

  • Wilton set up a ballot drop box at the polls for the primary. You can drop off your ballot at your local town clerk’s office during office hours or in their drop box if it is established. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Voting at Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle/High School on Tuesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/30/2020 4:41:31 PM

More voters than ever before are expected to vote absentee in advance of the November presidential election. With the sheer volume of requests for absentee voting paired with concerns about a slowdown of the mail service, clerks are advising voters who aren’t going to the polls to complete the process “weeks” early –  or in-person –  to ensure voters have their voices heard.

In 2020, any registered voter may vote absentee if they have concerns about potentially contracting COVID-19, a change from previous years, when voters were required to either be out of town the day of voting, have a disability, medical issue, religious, or employment-related situation which prevented them from voting.

Residents are taking advantage of this option in numbers like never before, according to local clerks.

Clerks received absentee ballots last week, and those voters who requested to vote absentee may already have their ballots in hand. However, the mass amounts of requests have slowed the process in some offices.

In Peterborough, for example, there have already been 1,400 requests for absentee ballots compared to 2016’s 600 request. Peterborough Town Clerk Linda Guyette said the clerk’s office has been mailing the ballots, and hopes to be caught up on those requests by Friday. Other towns have completed mailing, such as Wilton, according to Town Clerk Jane Farrell, though in Wilton, too, it took multiple days to process the requests.

The sheer volume of requests for absentee ballots has been glutting clerk’s offices, and there have also been concerns about the speed of local post offices being able to return votes in time to be counted – because absentee ballots must be in the hands of the town clerk by the end of election day.

Leave plenty of time

The United States Post Office has sent a mailer to residents, advising that, if doing so by mail, voters should request their mail-in ballot at least 15 days before election day, and to mail the ballot at least seven days before election day to ensure delivery.

Votes must be received by the town clerk’s office on the day of the election to be counted, but there is no official deadline for when a vote must be mailed. However, changes to the postal service implemented by new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, aimed at cutting costs, such as eliminating overtime and extra trips to deliver late-arriving mail have resulted in wide-spread reports of mail delays.

Among other issues, concern over ballots arriving in time for votes to count has been a chief issue.

Those who are concerned their vote may be delayed should request their ballot and return it “early, as early as possible” if they plan on using the mail, said Farrell. “Weeks before, if you can do it.”

Farrell said the town’s postmaster has taken steps to ensure the quickest delivery of ballots possible, and that when the Wilton Post Office receives absentee ballots, they are delivered directly to the town hall without being sent out of town for processing and sorting.

But if there are concerns about mail delays, Jaffrey Town Clerk Kelly Rollins said residents have the option of delivering it in person to their town clerk.

“Just knock on my door, and I’ll take it for you,” Rollins said.

This must be during the town clerk’s posted hours, however. Some towns have set up drop boxes for residents to deposit forms for town clerk business, but the Secretary of State has ruled that absentee ballots can only be submitted to drop boxes that are supervised by election officials. Rollins said the town of Jaffrey’s drop box specifically prohibits using it for submitting absentee ballots.

Guyette said she has been in discussion with the state about whether appointing someone to supervise the box would qualify as an “election official” in order to make the process go more quickly for residents dropping off their ballots.

Register first!

In order to vote absentee, you must first be registered to vote. Registering can be done prior to election or on election day at the polls. If you have registered in a previous election year, you may already be registered.

The supervisors of the checklist for each individual town must be in session for the correction of the checklist at some suitable place between 6 to 13 days prior to the election. Check with your clerk's office for the time and place of the meeting in your town or city. 

Voters can also register by visiting the town clerk’s office and filling out a voter registration form and providing proof of having established a domicile in the town or city where you will be voting. Voters must provide proof of age, citizenship and address. A driver’s license or non-driver ID from any state provides proof of identity, domicile and age, and a birth certificate, passport or naturalization document satisfies proof of citizenship. Voters can also swear an affidavit, under oath, in front of an election official to qualify.

To prove you are domiciled in the town where you are voting, any of the following documents is acceptable: driver’s license or non-driver ID, document from your school showing that you live in campus housing that has your name and address, signed by a school official (including a resident assistant or other supervisor of the dorm), a rental or lease agreement, deed, property tax bill, motor vehicle registration, voter photo ID, public school enrollment form for a minor dependent child, tax forms, any form from the Post Office that confirms you receive mail at the address, public utility bill, from a homeless shelter or other service provider that confirms that they will receive mail sent to you at that address.

You can also sign and swear to a affidavit to provide proof of domicile.

There is no deadline for requesting an absentee ballot, and residents can do so on the day of the election if they wish.

Acquire your absentee ballot

To receive an absentee ballot, voters first fill out a short form requesting one, which includes stating your reason for needing one. This form can be obtained online on the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s website, or at the office of the town clerk. Residents can fill out a request form, return it to the clerk, receive their ballot, vote, and submit their ballot within a single visit to the clerk’s office, if they wish, or obtain their ballot and submit it at a later time, either in person or by mail.

If you have a print disability, you may apply for an accessible electronic absentee ballot, also available on the Secretary of State’s website.

Uniformed service members who are not able to vote in person on Nov. 3 can apply for absentee ballots using the Federal Post Card Application, found on www.fvap.gov, and receive their application by mail, email or fax, or print the application from the www.fvap.gov website.

Double-check your information

Ensure that your ballot is returned to the clerk in your own home town. This can be done in person or by mail.

Before mailing any forms, ensure that they are addressed to the appropriate town clerk’s office. 

A recent mailer sent to New Hampshire residents by the New Hampshire Republican Party had a mail-in form to help voters register to vote absentee, but due to a printing error, while the street addresses for individual town clerk’s offices were correct, the town was listed as Durham on all of the mailers, no matter what town the voter resided in. Other voters have reported that they received ballots with other people’s names printed on them.

If you find an error on your absentee ballot, contact your local clerk’s office for a replacement. Ballots that arrive with a mailing envelope and a second ‘privacy’ envelope should be returned enclosed in both envelopes, regardless of whether you are mailing the ballot or returning it by hand. 

Return your ballots

The ballot can either be returned to the town clerk in person or by mail. Voters should be aware that they the clerk must have possession of their ballot by 5 p.m. on election day for their ballot to count. There is no official deadline for mailing a ballot, but it is recommended to do so as early as possible to ensure that your ballot is received. Voters can track whether their ballot has been received on the Secretary of State’s website.

Rollins and Farrell said their towns intend to have drop boxes set up on polling day, supervised by election officials, for voters to submit their ballots.

If you have not yet submitted your absentee ballot on election day and decide you would prefer to do so in person at the polls, the ballot will be accepted.

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