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3-Minute Civics: Prepare now to vote on Sept. 13

Credit: iStock

Deb Fauver

This story was updated on Tuesday at 10:02 a.m. to clarify that sample ballots will soon be posted on the website of the Secretary of State’s Office.

It’s time to make your voting plan: The New Hampshire state primary election will happen on Tuesday, Sept. 13.

You need to figure out whether you are currently registered, and if so as a Democrat, Republican, or undeclared voter. You will also need to determine where your polling location will be, the voting hours, whether you should request an absentee ballot, what your registration status will be going forward, and, of course, for whom you will vote.

This is also a great time to call your town clerk and offer to help out at the polls. Most towns have a core group of people who return for each election. Traditionally, poll workers arrived early and stayed late, until all the counting was done. The modern trend is to shorten the shifts so that everyone stays sharp.

Towns are always on the lookout for more help. You don’t have to count ballots – there are lots of other jobs, including setup and cleanup, organizing the poll worker break room, greeting voters, and even helping park cars. As a former moderator and current poll worker, I am glad to have the chance to be involved in politics in a nonpartisan way. 

Technically, there are two primaries on Sept. 13: one for the Democratic Party and one for the Republican Party. The state is in charge of the election, and cities and towns supply the election officials, who follow detailed rules set out in a 400-page manual updated annually by the Secretary of State’s Office. The manual is based on state election law, which the Legislature tweaks each and every year.

Some states hold separate Democrat and Republican primary elections on separate days. Thrifty New Hampshire runs both primaries at the same time and on the same day. 

In 2018 there was also a Libertarian primary, but since then there have been insufficient Libertarian votes cast to keep the Libertarian Party primary going. 

All voters registered as a Democrat, Republican, or undeclared may vote in the primary election. There will be a blue ballot for Democrats and a pink ballot for Republicans. If you are registered as a Democrat or Republican, you will be given the ballot of your party, and you will not be allowed to choose the ballot of the opposite party.

But if you are registered as undeclared, you will be given the choice of a blue or pink ballot. Think about this ahead of time – you would be amazed at the number of voters who ask the election workers for advice on which ballot to choose. Election workers are not allowed to answer that question – it is our job to run an efficient polling place, and it’s your job to understand the issues and candidates on the ballot.

After voting in either the Democratic or Republican primary, undeclared voters will automatically be changed to either Democrat or Republican on the official checklist. If you began the day as undeclared, and want to remain undeclared, you must stop at the “Return to Undeclared” table on the way out of the polls and sign the right form. This sounds simple, but people get talking, and this step gets skipped.

If a voter does skip that step, the next time he or she votes in a primary the voter will be registered to the party in which he or she cast a vote in the previous primary. Better to check your registration status now, before you get to the polls.

The same rules apply to absentee ballots in primaries. The ballot will arrive with a separate form to complete if the voter wants to return to undeclared.

Undeclared voters make up about 40 percent of New Hampshire registered voters. The Democrats and Republicans each have about 30 percent. Typically, turnout at the state primary is low.  Undeclared voters generally don’t turn out in droves at the primary. But if you are in that category, and have chosen your candidates, why not vote?

The secretary of state prints the official ballots and sends them out to the town clerks in the week prior to the election. Sample ballots will soon be posted on the website of the Secretary of State’s Office. Town clerks are required to post sample ballots in at least two public places – which is now most often the town hall and the town’s website. 

Sample ballots are also posted at the polling location and are required to be visible to voters before they get to the check-in station. Review the sample ballot and make up your mind before you get to the check-in station.

A voter who has lived at the same address for decades, and has always voted in the same party, is probably going to make his or her way through the polls very efficiently. But we are a transient society, and voters who are newer in town, or who may not yet have a local driver’s license, or who may have changed their address or last name, will cause election workers to slow down and take the time to update the records.

Elections can seem simple to the voter, but know that the Secretary of State Election Procedure Manual governs every aspect of the election. The manual also requires detailed record keeping, over and above the election results. At town meeting, the moderator has considerable discretion as to the best way to run the meeting. But on Election Day, the moderator’s every act is according to the plans laid out in the procedure manual.

To make your voting plan, go to https://app.sos.nh.gov. Here you will find “View My Voter Information,” which will ask for your town, name, and date of birth. The search will pull up the status of a pending absentee ballot (if you have requested or filed one), and below that you will also find your registration status, your polling location, hours of polling, and a link to sample ballots.

Checking your current status online now will give you time to go see the town clerk well before the election to straighten out any issues. Lastly, be patient with election officials. They do this job only on election days, they have very specific instructions as to how to do their jobs, and they are responsible to the state election inspectors who visit each active polling location. Poll workers also know that they are responsible to the voters. In my experience, we have great poll workers, and they want to get it done right.

This story was written by Deb Fauver, a lawyer and former town moderator for Conway, where this story first appeared.