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N.H. Democratic Party outlines plan for correcting erroneous absentee ballot mailers

A mailer sent to some voters  this week by the NHDP included inaccurate return addresses.
New Hampshire Attorney General
A mailer sent to some voters by the New Hampshire Democratic Party included inaccurate return addresses.

This story was originally produced by The Keene Sentinel. NHPR is republishing it in partnership with the Granite State News Collaborative.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party may have to go to the homes of hundreds of voters to rectify problems created by mistakes in a mass mailing of absentee ballot applications, according to a plan filed with the state Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday.

Attorney General John Formella ordered the party on Sept. 23 to stop the mailing, saying some of the letters had wrong addresses on the prepaid envelopes provided to voters for their applications, some had incorrect addresses for the voters and some falsely stated the voter had cast absentee ballots in the past. His office had called the party two days earlier with initial reports of address problems with the mailers.

More from NHPR: N.H. Attorney General says Democrats' inaccurate mailers caused 'voter confusion'

He said one concern is that some voters could become disenfranchised if they send their absentee applications to the wrong address and their application never reaches the proper municipal clerk.

This does not appear to be much of a problem in Keene, but Assistant City Clerk Terri Hood said some undeclared and Democratic voters asked about the mailing, saying they never requested it and that they hadn't voted by absentee ballot in the past.

Formella gave the party until this past Tuesday to come up with a plan for fixing the problems.

William E. Christie, an attorney for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said in a letter to Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards on Tuesday that the party would attempt to telephone the 995 voters impacted by the mailing.

However, he said the party does not have telephone numbers for 269 of them. If it can’t get these numbers from the state or from local clerks, Christie said the party will attempt in-person contact with these voters as well as those who sent absentee ballot applications to the wrong address.

He promised weekly updates to the Attorney General’s Office.

Most of the 995 voters who were given application envelopes with wrong addresses or incorrect zip codes for their municipal clerks were in Plymouth, Kingston, Sutton, Goffstown and Bridgewater, but there were also scattered instances of the problem in 34 other towns and cities, including one voter each in Keene, Swanzey, Richmond, Stoddard and Acworth, Edwards said.

Many more voters were given envelopes that had the right zip code and correct address for their local clerk, but listed a county board of elections as the office in the address. New Hampshire doesn’t have county boards of elections.

For more details on New Hampshire's absentee voting rules, check out NHPR's voter guide.

Colin Booth, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said this particular group of envelopes appeared to be reaching the proper clerks despite having the wrong office in the address.

Of greater concern were those envelopes that had wrong street addresses or P.O. Box numbers and incorrect zip codes.

“Our team is working to ensure that voters have the correct information, answer any questions they may have, and help them submit their absentee ballot request,” Booth said in an email Wednesday. “We are confident that with these steps anyone who wants to submit an absentee ballot will be able to do so."

In a written statement last week, Troy Price, the state party’s executive director, blamed a contractor for the problems.

“This was a regrettable clerical error made by a mail vendor with the intention of ensuring every Granite Stater was able to cast their ballot in this year's general election,” he said.

“The NHDP has been transparent about the issues with this mailing and have been working with the Attorney General’s office to remedy the situation.”

However, Booth declined to answer a series of questions, including how many total letters were sent, the political party affiliation of the voters they were sent to, whether the mailing would resume after errors were fixed or what the party spent on the mailing.

Michael Garrity, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said the party can resume the mailings as long as the information is correct.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said it’s not unusual for political parties to send out absentee ballot applications to voters in this state.

In 2020, New Hampshire eased the criteria for voting by absentee ballot to include anybody who didn’t want to go to a polling place out of concerns about contracting COVID-19.

That criteria no longer exists but the qualifications for voting absentee remain broad and include:

  • Absence on election day
  • Employment obligations, including taking care of children or infirm adults
  • A disability, including having symptoms of a communicable disease or having health circumstances requiring limits on public exposure
  • Incarceration for a misdemeanor or awaiting trial

Typically, about 10 percent of voters cast absentee ballots, but that tripled two years ago, and most of the absentee voters tended to be Democrats, Scanlan said Thursday.
He said it’s unfortunate that the New Hampshire Democratic Party put out a mailer with errors.

“And it is concerning that that happens,” he said. “But our advice to voters is if you apply for an absentee ballot, whether by going to the town clerk, or getting an absentee ballot application off the Secretary of State’s website, or through a third party, that you follow up to make sure the ballot was received by the clerk.”

There is a function on the secretary of state’s website that allows voters to track the status of their request for an absentee ballot.

“This is a useful tool for voters,” he said. “They should be proactive and make sure everything is moving in the right direction and that their vote will count.”

The site also includes a tool to find the municipal clerk to whom the absentee ballot request should be sent.

People can request or drop off absentee ballots in person at their city or town clerk's office as late as the day before the election. Completed absentee ballots that are sent by mail need to arrive at the clerk’s office by 5 p.m. on election day, and should be sent as soon as possible, well before the election.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information

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