In August 2020, Open Democracy volunteers from around New Hampshire sent in picture their absentee ballots and supporting documents, sent to them by their town clerks. What we've discovered in our analysis of the pictures is a concerning lack of consistency around the state. Voters should be receiving:
- An absentee ballot
- An inner "affidavit" envelope
- An outer return envelope with a label return address of the voter and the voter's ward or polling place
- The latest instructions from the Secretary of State's office which include special 2020 instructions for absentee voting for concerns with COVID-19
However, in a number of the towns for which we've received information, voters have received NO INSTRUCTIONS, OUTDATED INSTRUCTIONS, and/or NO VOTER RETURN ADDRESS LABEL. There are other issues as noted below. This is not a scientific survey, but raises concerns that voters have not been given equal access to voting information, likely caused by a lack of clear instructions or training from the Secretary of State's office. The high percentage of incomplete or inaccurate packages would suggest that this is not to be blamed solely on the clerks making mistakes; it shows a lack of management and direction from the State.
The pictures below have notes above and on the pictures.
Portsmouth, NH: Good on all counts
Litchfield, NH: No instructions means that the voters had have heard or read about the Secretary of State/AG allowance for using Religious Observance or Physical Disability side of the affidavit envelope.
Rochester, NH - Looking good. Updated instructions No bar code on the return label, but the label has the necessary info to verify someone.
Temple, NH -- OK, but if the voter returns the ballot with no return information, the voter couldn't be validated. And it is more difficult when the voter's number in the database is not showing. Is this Jonathan R. Smith, Sr., or Jonathan R Smith, Jr.?
Hinsdale, NH -- The picture is a little blurry, but Hinsdale has no return label information, nor did they supply an address to return it to the town. While we thought at first this was the old instructions, this appears to be the 7/2020 instructions.
Hooksett, NH -- Our voter had an issue with her address being keyed in incorrectly, but that was addressed with a phone call. However, the instructions received were outdated, with no COVID-19 information on using the Religious Observance or Physical Disability side of the affidavit envelope, causing voters to pause and say, "I'm not really disabled, and there's this threat of a fine . . . " Despite the Secretary of State's arguments to the contrary, this is intimidating to the average voter.
Hancock, NH -- Likewise in Hancock, outdated instructions were used. The return label didn't have the bar code, but contained the info, and Hancock was one of the few towns that included the form to change back your affiliation BUT didn't have a place to witness it, as required by the SOS' instructions.
Northwood, NH -- Another town with no instructions, leaving voters to guess on what they were supposed to sign, but it did include the proper return label.
Lyme, NH -- The picture is small and isn't of great quality, but it shows no label on the return envelope, and non-standard instructions, neither the outdated version or the updated COVID-19 Instructions, nor the COVID-19 absentee instructions for voters that were posted to the Secretary of State's COVID-19 Voting page. It may contain COVID-19 instructions, but it's not clear.
Conway, NH - Kudos to the Town of Conway for doing a great job. It includes both the current standard instructions and another, earlier, set of instructions issued by the Secretary of State
Lebanon, NH -- The City of Lebanon's website information on absentee voting is generally excellent, but failed to address COVID-19 voting in its absentee ballot package. The town-designed instructions are superior to the standard instructions provided by the Secretary of State, which if legalistic in language, but unfortunately, the Lebanon instructions did not include COVID-19 specific guidance (signing the "physical disability" side of the affidavit), and note that the change of affiliation form has no line or instructions for witnessing the signature. Another package picture was received from Lebanon with identical contents.
Merrimack, NH -- While Merrimack provided the outdated standard instructions, it also supplemented with other COVID-19 voting instructions.
Durham, NH -- Durham gets good marks for using up-to-date instructions, and proper return addresses.
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