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N.H. Secretary of State clarifies absentee ballot eligibility for voters with health concerns

A sign along the road in Durham reads, "Thank you for voting absentee."
Annie Ropeik
Two years ago, election officials in Durham (shown in this NHPR file photo) and other communities encouraged voters to cast absentee ballots to cut down on crowds at the polls. A temporary expansion of absentee voting eligibility helped drive record turnout in the Granite State in 2020, but those rules have since expired.

New Hampshire voters cast absentee ballots in record numbers during the 2020 elections, thanks in part to expanded rules allowing anyone to vote absentee due to concerns about COVID-19.

Those COVID-specific absentee voting rules have since expired. Unlike other states with no-excuse absentee voting, New Hampshire only allows voters to cast an absentee ballot if they meet certain state-approved criteria.

But in a memo shared with city and town clerks last month, New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said there are still circumstances in which voters can request an absentee ballot as a health precaution.

Click here for the full memo from the New Hampshire Secretary of State about absentee voting in the 2022 elections.

The memo advised local clerks to let voters know that “a person can register and vote by absentee if, based on their own health circumstances, medical authorities advise them to avoid going out in public.” That includes “voters with symptoms of a communicable disease or illness,” or those who “due to their own health circumstances, limit public exposure in their day-to-day life as a preventative measure,” according to the memo.

New Hampshire election law allows voters to cast an absentee ballot if they are unable to vote in person “by reason of physical disability.” The secretary of state says the above situations would fall under that umbrella.

“‘Disability’ for election law purposes has the same meaning today as it had pre-pandemic,” Scanlan wrote. “The nature of the voter’s disability must leave them ‘unable to vote in person’ according to the Constitution and the absentee voting statute.”

Absentee voting is also an option for New Hampshire voters who can't make it to the polls because of a religious observance, work or caregiving obligations, or plans to be out of town on Election Day.

To vote absentee, you have to first complete an Absentee Ballot Application and return it to your local clerk by mail, fax, email or in person. You can look up your clerk’s contact information here.

If you plan to vote absentee, it’s a good idea to request your absentee ballot as soon as possible to allow plenty of time to receive your ballot and return it back to your local clerk in time for the election. State officials advise mailing your absentee ballot at least two weeks before Election Day to ensure it arrives in time to be counted at the polls. For the September 13 state primary, that would mean mailing your absentee ballot by Aug. 30.

If you are not registered to vote in New Hampshire, you can also register by mail if you meet certain requirements.

More information on the absentee voting process is available on the Secretary of State's website.

This story was prompted by a question we received from a New Hampshire voter about the upcoming elections. You can ask your own question using the form below. Or, you can text NEW HAMPSHIRE to 855-670-1777. Your question could inspire future NHPR reporting, and it will help us make Granite Staters more informed this election season. Learn more about this project, part of the work of America Amplified, here.


Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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