New Hampshire’s state primaries are Tuesday, Sept. 13 – less than a month away. But for some residents, voting is possible now. The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office distributed its absentee ballots to towns and cities this week. Voters who are eligible may now apply for, receive, and cast their primary ballots.
After an unusual pandemic-era election in 2020, which saw a record number of absentee ballots in the state, the rules around absentee voting are reverting to their pre-COVID status.
Here’s what you need to know about absentee voting in 2022.
Who can get absentee ballots?
In order to get an absentee ballot, a voter must know they will be either absent from the town or city they live in on Election Day, unable to show up to the polls because of a disability or illness, unable to show up because of their job or caregiving duty, or unable to show up because of a religious observance.
Absentee ballots are also allowed during extreme weather events. If on the day before the election the National Weather Service issues a winter storm warning, blizzard warning, or ice storm warning, and the person is elderly, has a disability, or will face complications with schools closing because of those weather conditions, they may request absentee ballots a day ahead of time.
How do I get a ballot?
If a voter meets the requirements, they may request an absentee ballot by filling out an application form and submitting it to the clerk’s office. That form can be picked up and dropped off in person, printed out at home and mailed in, or emailed or faxed to the clerk. A digital copy of the application form is available on the website of the Secretary of State’s Office.
Once the application is accepted, the ballot may either be mailed to the voter, delivered to the voter by the clerk’s office, or handed to the voter personally at the clerk’s office. The voter will receive a ballot, an affidavit to sign verifying that they are eligible to vote in the town and that they have a legitimate reason to vote absentee, and an envelope.
Some voters with disabilities may also be given an electronic copy of their ballots that they can fill out on a computer at home and print out themselves. Details on that process are below.
How do I cast my absentee ballot?
After filling out the ballot, completing the affidavit, and putting both into the provided envelope, the ballot may be returned to the clerk’s office in person or mailed to the clerk’s office.
Do I need to do this myself?
No. New Hampshire law allows voters to use delivery agents to submit absentee ballot applications and submit the ballots.
Those agents can include the voter’s “spouse, parent, sibling, child, grandchild, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, stepparent, (or) stepchild,” according to the statute.
They may also include a nursing home staff member or administrator, a residential care facility staff member or administrator, or a person assisting a voter who is blind or has a disability, provided the voter signed an affidavit agreeing to it.
What is the deadline for casting an absentee ballot?
If a voter wants to cast the absentee ballot in person, they must return it to a town or city clerk’s office by 5 p.m. the day before the election. The voter may show up to the clerk’s office, request a ballot using the application form, and receive the ballot on the same day, provided it is submitted by 5.
A voter may also send a delivery agent to submit the absentee ballot any time before 5 p.m. on Election Day. Voters may also mail the ballots, but ballots will only be counted if they are received by 5 p.m. on Election Day.
What if I test positive for COVID?
If a voter tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Election Day, they are eligible for an absentee ballot, Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said in an interview. A recent COVID-19 diagnosis falls under the definition of “physical disability” for the purposes of voting absentee, Scanlan said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who test positive for COVID-19 isolate themselves for five days.
Those who have tested positive may use a delivery agent to submit the affidavit, collect it, and deliver the ballot.
However, absentee ballots are not available for voters who are simply worried about catching COVID-19 at the polls, Scanlan said, unless they have a medical condition that puts them at high risk from the coronavirus.
That is a change from the 2020 elections, when the Secretary of State’s Office issued guidance allowing any voter concerned about COVID to request an absentee ballot by checking the disability box on the affidavit. That guidance has since ended.
What is the Accessible Electronic Absentee Ballot system and who can use it?
The Accessible Electronic Absentee Ballot system is a tool first implemented in the 2020 election that allows voters with print disabilities to be given an electronic copy of their ballot that they may then fill out using a digital program on their computer and print at home.
The system is available to voters with conditions that impair their ability to read the ballot, including low vision, blindness, or a learning disability.
Voters with print disabilities who are able to show up at the polls in person may use “One4all,” an accessible voting system that uses a tablet and reads out candidate choices to that voter.
What has changed from the last statewide election?
In 2020, the attorney general and secretary of state issued guidance that all residents could vote by absentee by claiming a disability, due to the coronavirus state of emergency.
That same year, lawmakers passed a bill with a slew of temporary tools that town and city elections officials could use to help with an anticipated flood of absentee ballots. Those tools allowed municipalities to create drop boxes to accept absentee ballots, and gave election officials the ability to partially pre-process absentee ballots ahead of Election Day to reduce their workload.
Those provisions have now expired, and the eligibility for an absentee ballot has reverted to the previous restrictions.
“The voting process in 2022 is the same as it was in 2018,” Scanlan said. “It’s as if the COVID pandemic never happened.”
For more information on how to vote by absentee ballot, visit the website of the Secretary of State’s Office at https://www.sos.nh.gov/elections.
This story was written by Ethan DeWitt, a reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.