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Politics

Can't Find A Record of Your Absentee Ballot In N.H. Voter Database? Don't Panic.

A mailbox and sign saying "Hand in Your Ballot to the Town Clerk" outside Durham Town Hall Oct. 31
Dan Tuohy / NHPR
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It takes time for the voting records used on Election Day to be logged into the state's voter database.

Maybe you voted absentee in the general election, and you’re wondering whether your vote was counted. Or maybe you just registered to vote in the past few weeks, or even on Election Day at the polls, and want to verify that your information was recorded correctly.

You should be able to confirm both of these things on the state’s voter lookup website — but if you can’t find a record of your registration or your ballot from the Nov. 3 election there, don’t panic.

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The state’s voter lookup database relies on information from the paper voter checklists used at the polls on Election Day. In every election cycle, it can take some time for local election officials to log all of the information contained in those checklists into the online database. This is a normal part of the process.

If your absentee ballot was rejected, as a small share tend to be in every election, the website will tell you why. But if your ballot wasn't rejected, the website will just say "N/A" under "Rejected Reasons." Again, it can take some time after the election for this information to be reflected on the state's website. (An example of what you might see if you look up your ballot today is pictured below.) 

A screenshot of the absentee ballot lookup website.
Credit Screenshot, New Hampshire Voter Lookup Website
This is an example of what a voter might find when they check their absentee ballot on the state website.

There was also, as always, a brief registration cutoff before Nov. 3 to allow local election officials time to finalize and print the paper checklists that will be used at the polls on Election Day. This date fell at least six days ahead the election this year, though the exact timing varies by community.

People who registered during that window (for example when requesting an absentee ballot at their clerk’s office or at the polls) don’t get officially added to the checklist until Election Day.

“If they were voting absentee, they could register to vote" at town hall, Exeter Town Clerk Andrea Kohler explained. “But we would hold on to that paperwork until Election Day because we are not allowed to put any new registered voters in until Election Day.”

Local election officials also need time to enter in the registration details for voters who signed up at the polls, or to update the checklist with any name or address changes.

“There’s not anything more or less this time around, the process is the same,” Kohler explained. “With a presidential election, there's absolutely more people who vote. So it takes us longer. That can't be helped.”

And sometimes, because of simple clerical errors, there are typos or spelling mistakes in the database  which can also cause trouble when a voter tries to look up their registration records. Kohler said voters can contact their clerk’s office to fix those mistakes, but it can take 24 hours for changes made at the local level to show up in the state database.

If a voter is eager to verify the status of their ballot or registration, Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said they don’t have to wait until the database is updated to do so.

“Any voter can view the marked checklist used on the day of the election at their town office to see if their ballot was cast,” he said.

But the absentee voting process is new to many New Hampshire voters this year, and a lot of voters - no matter how they cast their ballots - aren’t familiar with the extra steps involved to update local and state voting records after the polls close.

In the days following the election, posts have been making the rounds in local Facebook groups from someone who suggested their ballot wasn’t counted because it didn’t appear in the state’s database. This claim also picked up some steam beyond New Hampshire, shared by people who linked this scenario to unfounded claims of election misconduct in other states.

Scanlan said he wasn’t aware of any voters who contacted the Secretary of State’s office directly with questions about this, but they have taken steps to address the misleading claims about how New Hampshire’s voting process works.

“This same post has been showing up attributed to different sources, and we have notified Facebook that this post is providing misinformation,” Scanlan wrote in an email.

One of the Facebook posts casting doubt on the ballot counting process came from someone who identified as a supporter of President Trump who lives in Exeter. (NHPR reached out to that person but has not received a response.)

“We already have claims in with the voter fraud department,” the post read. “I don’t care who you voted for but everyone’s vote should be counted.”

Kohler, the Exeter clerk, said local election officials have already connected with the person behind that post to explain how the process works and why their information wouldn’t yet appear in the state voter database. Unfortunately, by the time that happened, the original Facebook post had already picked up steam online.

“The atmosphere in this country right now isn't that great,” Kohler said. “So everybody jumps to conclusions.”

And because of the polarized atmosphere, Kohler is having to spend more time putting out fires of election misinformation rather than focusing on the work of actually administering the election.

“It's very disheartening sometimes when people do that because it makes us look like we don't know what we're doing, and we do know what we're doing,” Kohler said. “It would be nice if they had a little faith in us.”

If you have questions or concerns about the voting process, you’d be much better off contacting an election official for firsthand information than speculating on social media. You can look up the phone number for your local clerk on this website, or contact the Secretary of State’s office at 603-271-3242.

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