COVID-19 Voting Guide: How to Vote in New Hampshire's Elections During the Pandemic | New Hampshire Public Radio

COVID-19 Voting Guide: How to Vote in New Hampshire's Elections During the Pandemic

Aug 21, 2020

Whether you plan to cast an absentee ballot or plan to head to your local polling place on Election Day, or even if you haven’t yet finalized your voting plan and need more information to help make up your mind, NHPR can help. 

If you have a question about voting that isn’t addressed here, or if you think we need to make something more clear, we want to hear from you. 

What has your voting experience been like during COVID-19? Do you have questions about casting a ballot that we didn't address here? Send them to elections@nhpr.org, and we'll try to report back with answers or incorporate them into this voting guide. 

We’ve found that guidance is still developing and new information keeps coming out. We’ll keep adding to this page in the months ahead and will do our best to make sure it's as up-to-date as possible. 

When in doubt, you should always reach out to your local clerk or another election official, in your community or at the state level. Click here for more information on where to reach out for help

To skip ahead to a specific question, click on the item in the list below.

Who can vote?

Can college students vote in New Hampshire?

Can I vote if I have a criminal record?

Can I vote if I'm homeless or between homes?

Can I vote if I live in New Hampshire but was born outside the United States?

I might need help with absentee or in-person voting because of a disability. What are my options?

I’m not registered to vote or need to update my registration with my current address. Can I still do that?

Do I need a New Hampshire drivers license to vote?

Do I need any special paperwork or documents to register to vote? 

Does my party affiliation matter?

Can I vote absentee?

How do I get an absentee ballot?

Is there a way to track my absentee ballot?

Can I request absentee ballots for both the primary and the general elections at the same time?

I’m voting absentee due to COVID-19, but the absentee ballot paperwork I received doesn't list that as a reason. What should I do?

When do I need to return my absentee ballot?

Can I have someone drop off my absentee ballot for me?

Are there special dropboxes where I can submit my vote before Election Day?

What if I still want to vote in-person on Election Day?

I requested an absentee ballot but changed my mind and want to vote in-person. Is that allowed?

When are absentee ballots counted?

How many stamps do I need for my absentee ballot?

If I vote absentee, will my choices still be private?

I heard there's a chance my absentee ballot could be rejected. Is that true?

If I made a mistake on my absentee ballot paperwork, will I have a chance to fix it?

Will I need to wear a mask at my local polling place?

What important deadlines should I pay attention to?

Who can I contact if I have questions or run into other problems when trying to vote?

Who can vote?

If you’re at least 18 years old, you’re a U.S. citizen and you live in New Hampshire, you can vote here. (You can also vote in New Hampshire elections if you are temporarily absent from the state but intend to return.) 

Can college students vote in New Hampshire?

Yes, as long as you’re at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and you live in New Hampshire. Keep in mind that, under a new law, voting in New Hampshire could have implications for things like car registration and licensing. More details on that can be found here

Can I vote if I have a criminal record?

If you’ve been released from prison, you are eligible to vote — unless you specifically lost the right to vote in New Hampshire as part of your sentence.

Under a relatively new law, in fact, correctional facilities in New Hampshire are supposed to “provide [an] offender written notice that he or she may vote during the period of the suspension or parole” upon release from incarceration.

Additionally, “people confined in a penal institution in pre-trial detention or as a result of a conviction for a misdemeanor retain the right to vote,” according to the state’s election procedure manual. If someone is incarcerated on a misdemeanor conviction or detained pretrial, they can request an absentee ballot from the city or town where they lived before they were incarcerated.

“Most people sentenced to County Corrections fall in this category,” the manual reads.

Can I vote if I'm homeless or between homes?

Yes. The state’s election procedure manual makes clear to pollworkers: “Do not deny a person, who is otherwise qualified to vote, from registering because he or she is homeless.” When someone who is homeless or transient is registering to vote, pollworkers are supposed to work with that person to identify the best location to list as their home for voting purposes.

“The homeless applicant’s domicile may be the street or parking lot where the person, living in a car, parks/sleeps more than any other place,” the manual says. “The homeless applicant’s domicile may be the home of another where, more often than any other, the homeless person sleeps. The homeless applicant’s domicile can even be the park, area under a bridge, or spot in the woods where, more than any other place, the homeless person sleeps.”

Can I vote if I was born outside the U.S.?

If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen, yes. If you have a visa or are a lawful permanent resident, or “green card” holder, but have not gone through the naturalization process, you are not eligible to vote in New Hampshire elections.

I might need help with absentee or in-person voting because of a disability. What are my options?

In New Hampshire, voters with disabilities to are allowed to ask someone for assistance requesting or completing an absentee ballot. But the state also recently started offering a way for voters who are blind or experience other print disabilities to complete an absentee ballot without assistance.

Here’s how to request an accessible absentee ballot, according to new state guidance:

  • Call the Secretary of State’s Election Division Hotline at 1-833-726-0034 to notify officials after submitting the application.
  • If approved, you will receive an electronic version of an absentee ballot, which you can sign and fill out on a computer. Again, an electronic signature will be considered valid on this paperwork. You will also receive an absentee ballot packet in the mail.

More information on New Hampshire’s accessible absentee voting and registration process can be found on the Secretary of State’s website. Voters who need help can contact the Secretary of State’s election hotline at 1-833-726-0034.

Voting accommodations are also available at every polling place on Election Day. One option is to ask an election official to bring you an absentee ballot to complete outside of the polling place. As long as you are eligible to vote, the election official can take your completed ballot back inside to be counted.

New Hampshire polling places are required to meet accessibility standards set by federal law, including accessible parking and entryway provisions. Each polling place should also have an accessible voting machine that allows anyone to privately and independently, even if they have vision loss or other conditions that might make traditional balloting challenging. Voters also have the option of asking someone to assist them with completing their ballot, but that assistant is not supposed to influence the voter’s choice. Any voter, not just those with disabilities, can use accessible voting equipment at the polls.

For additional information, the Disability Rights Center-NH's voting rights guide is a useful resource. Voters can request additional information or assistance by calling the Disability Rights Center-NH directly at 1-800-834-1721.

I'm not registered to vote or need to update my registration. Can I still do that?

Yes. As in every election, you can register to vote before the election or in-person at the polls on Election Day. The state has more information on all the ways to register here

Because of COVID-19, any voter can register by mail. Officials recommend mailing voter registration paperwork as soon as possible. Click here for instructions on how to do that

If you are registering by mail, you need to have a witness present to sign your absentee voter registration paperwork. According to the state's election procedure manual, “A person can witness a document being signed by watching the person registering to vote sign the form from a socially appropriate distance of 6 feet or more or through a window." 

If you prefer to register in-person before Election Day, you should contact your local clerk for details, since many town and city offices are operating on different schedules during the pandemic. Click here for a directory of local election officials.

Do I need a New Hampshire drivers license to vote here?

No. But according to a recent change in the law, voting in New Hampshire is the equivalent of declaring residency, which could subject you to certain car licensing and registration requirements if you own a car that you drive while you’re in the state. More information can be found on the websites of the Secretary of State or the Division of Motor Vehicles

If you're registering by mail, you will need to provide some form of identification and proof that you live where you're trying to vote. Click here for more information on that.

Do I need any paperwork when I'm registering to vote?

If you're registering in-person, you can sign a form confirming that you're eligible to vote to the best of your knowledge, in place of providing proof of identity or where you live.

If you're registering to vote by mail, you'll be asked to submit documentation that proves who you are and where you live. That documentation does not have to be printed out on paper. You can also arrange to email photos or electronic copies to your local clerk.

If you have a New Hampshire drivers license that has your current address, that should be enough. But if you don't have that, you have other options. Submitting a copy of your non-driver ID, student ID, passport or armed services registration card will prove your identity. Sharing a copy of a rental agreement, lease, proof of campus housing, a utility bill, a note from a shelter or other service provider that receives mail on your behalf are all among the acceptable ways to prove where you live.

If you are having trouble coming up with the paperwork to prove your identity or where you live, or if you run into other issues with this process, you can request help from your local clerk

Does my party affiliation matter?

For the September primary, yes.

If you are a registered Republican, you’ll only be able to vote in Republican races in September. If you’re a registered Democrat, you can only vote in Democratic races. If you are an undeclared or “independent” voter, you can vote in either race —  but you’ll have to choose only one for the state primary election. You can’t vote in the Republican primary for governor, for example, but the Democratic primary for state representative.

In the November general election, you can vote for anyone on the ballot. 

Can I vote absentee?

Yes. Any voter in New Hampshire who is concerned about COVID-19 can request an absentee ballot for the September primary or November general election. In the past, absentee voting was limited only to people with certain state-approved excuses. But the state expanded the rules, and officials are encouraging people to vote absentee to prevent spreading COVID-19 at the polls on Election Day.

How do I get an absentee ballot?

First, you have to request an absentee ballot. For that, you have a few options:

  • You can print and fill out one of these forms. Then you can mail, fax or hand deliver the form to your local clerk.
  • If you don't have a printer, or have trouble using the state form for another reason, you can hand write a request for an absentee ballot, as long as you include all of the same information that appears on the absentee ballot request form. You can either mail, fax or hand deliver that request to your local clerk.
  • If you prefer to handle the process in person, you can also request your absentee ballot at your local clerk's office. Contact your local clerk directly to check on their hours and availability.

Is there a way to track my absentee ballot?

Yes. You can track the status of your absentee ballot and your absentee ballot request on this website. If you’re worried your local clerk hasn’t received your request, try contacting them directly.

What has your voting experience been like during COVID-19? Do you have questions about casting a ballot that we didn't address here? Let us know at elections@nhpr.org. Your feedback will help us better cover the elections from a variety of perspectives.

If your absentee ballot request is approved, you’ll get an absentee ballot that you can fill out and return by mail or in-person. Click here for more details on returning your absentee ballot.

Can I request absentee ballots for the primary and general elections at the same time?

Yes. The absentee ballot application form for the fall 2020 elections includes an option to request an absentee ballot for both the primary and the general. Voters who want to request absentee ballots for both elections should check both boxes on the request form.

I'm voting absentee due to COVID-19, but the paperwork I received from my local clerk doesn't list COVID-19. What should I do?

The state says voters who are casting an absentee ballot due to COVID-19 should select the “Disability” option on their absentee ballot affidavit envelope. 

“Even if the voter does not consider himself or herself a person with disability in other circumstances, this term applies for registering to vote and voting in 2020,” the state says in its Election Procedure Manual. “The opportunity to register and vote absentee due to disability from COVID-19 will apply in 2020, regardless of the future development of the public health crisis. The voter must sign the ‘disability’ affidavit on the absentee ballot affidavit envelope.”

While some election forms have been updated to reflect that COVID-19 is a state-approved excuse for registering and voting absentee this year, some forms don’t list COVID-19. 

Is there a deadline for returning my absentee ballot?

Yes. But it depends on whether you plan to mail your ballot or deliver it in-person.

If you’re mailing your absentee ballot, it needs to arrive to your local clerk by 5 p.m. on Election Day in order to be counted, according to New Hampshire law. This is different from some other states, which allow ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by the day of the election. Election officials recommend mailing absentee ballots as soon as possible, but at least two weeks before the election, to be sure it arrives on time.

If you’re delivering your own absentee ballot to your local clerk in-person, you should aim to drop it off by 5 p.m. on Election Day. You can also have someone else drop off your absentee ballot for you, in certain circumstances.

But if you can't make it to your local polling place by 5 p.m. on Election Day, you can still show up at the polls and cast an absentee ballot without going inside any time before the polling place closes, according to Associate Attorney General Nick Chong Yen.

"That voter, if they're feeling concerned about timing or being able to send [their ballot] through the mail, can appear at the polling place and utilize something called accessible voting on Election Day, which existed in our law prior to this whole public health crisis," Chong Yen told NHPR's The Exchange. 

Under this option, a voter can ask pollworkers to bring absentee ballot paperwork to them outside the polling place on Election Day. According to the state's election rules, "The absentee ballot delivered by the town or ward clerk shall be processed using the same procedures as any other absentee ballot except that the cutoff time [of 5 p.m. on Election Day] shall not apply.”

Can I ask someone else to return my absentee ballot for me?

Yes, but only if they meet the definition of a state-approved “delivery agent,” according to the election procedure manual.

You can ask your spouse, parent, sibling, child, grandchild, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in- law, stepparent or stepchild to return your absentee ballot for you.

If you live in a nursing home or residential care facility, the administrator or administrator’s designee can return your ballot. According to the state, “This type of delivery agent is limited to delivering no more than 4 absentee ballots in any election.”

If you require assistance completing your absentee ballot, the person who helps you can deliver it on your behalf. 

Can I return my ballot to a special "dropbox" before the election?

It depends on where you live. Cities and towns are allowed to set up secure dropboxes at their local clerk’s offices to allow voters to deliver their absentee ballots before Election Day.

Those dropboxes “must be staffed by a properly trained election official,” according to the state. That means you can’t drop off your ballot outside of normal business hours, like you might drop off a municipal bill. Contact your local clerk directly to check on their hours and availability.

What if I still want to vote in person?

You’ll be able to do that. Every community will still have at least one open polling place on Election Day, and the state is providing lots of protective equipment, hand sanitizer and other supplies to try to make the in-person voting process as safe as possible

What has your voting experience been like during COVID-19? Do you have questions about casting a ballot that we didn't address here? Let us know at elections@nhpr.org. Your feedback will help us better cover the elections from a variety of perspectives.

Your polling place might be in a different location than in past elections, and you might have a different polling place in the September primary than in the November general. To find out which polling places are open in your community and where you should go, you should contact your local clerk.

I requested an absentee ballot but changed my mind and want to vote in-person. Is that allowed?

Yes. Requesting an absentee ballot does not preclude you from voting in-person. It is illegal, however, to cast more than one vote in any election. But you should make sure to check in with your local election officials to find out when they plan to start processing absentee ballots, because you can't cast a new ballot once your absentee ballot has been processed and placed into the ballot box.

When are absentee ballots counted?

All ballots in New Hampshire elections are counted at the same time, whether they were absentee or in-person votes.

Local pollworkers are allowed to start processing absentee ballots before the polls close, and in some cases before Election Day. That doesn’t mean those absentee ballots will be counted early, it just means that pollworkers will start checking submitted absentee ballots to ensure the voter filled out the attached paperwork correctly. If there’s an issue, pollworkers are encouraged — but not required — to contact the voter directly to give them a chance to fix it. Click here for more information about what happens if an absentee ballot is rejected.

How many stamps do I need for my absentee ballot?

Some states offer prepaid postage for absentee ballots, but New Hampshire is not one of them. And the state doesn’t offer clear public instructions on postage costs for absentee ballots.

NHPR reached out directly to the Secretary of State’s office, and they said return postage for a completed absentee ballot in the official envelope is one first-class or “forever” stamp. But if a voter includes additional documents in that envelope, the postage will be more. If you have more questions about this, it would be best to contact your local clerk directly.

If I vote absentee, will my choices still be private?

Yes. In a primary, pollworkers will know what party you voted for (since different ballots are used for Republican and Democratic contests) but your individual candidate selection should remain private. When a pollworker opens your completed absentee ballot envelope for processing, they are not supposed to unfold or examine the ballot inside. They are only supposed to check to make sure you filled out the attached paperwork correctly. 

As long as there aren’t any issues with your paperwork, your ballot will be placed inside the ballot box or ballot counting machine to be counted without any identifying information attached, like any other ballot cast on Election Day.

I heard pollworkers can reject my absentee ballot if I made a mistake. Is that true?

Yes. While it is rare, absentee ballots are rejected for a variety of reasons in each election cycle. Here are some of the reasons why absentee ballots can be rejected, according to the state’s election procedure manual:

  • Your absentee ballot application, envelope or affidavit is missing a signature
  • Your absentee ballot was challenged by another voter at the polls on Election Day
  • Your absentee ballot and affidavit listed two different names
  • Your absentee ballot or affidavit is missing
  • Your absentee ballot was received after Election Day
  • Your absentee ballot was delivered by someone other than you, a postal carrier (USPS or a commercial delivery service) or another approved delivery agent (Click here for more information on who qualifies)
  • Your absentee ballot envelope included multiple ballots
  • You aren’t a registered voter in the community where you submitted your absentee ballot
  • You already voted in person
  • You didn’t submit an application for an absentee ballot
  • Your ballot is spoiled (meaning that you made a mistake on your original ballot and requested a replacement)
  • The voter who cast the absentee ballot has died or is otherwise no longer eligible

If I made a mistake on my absentee ballot paperwork, will I have a chance to fix it?

It depends. There’s a spot on the absentee ballot paperwork asking you to include your contact information. While pollworkers aren’t required by law to contact you if they reject your ballot, they are strongly encouraged to reach out to offer you a chance to fix the problem. You can use this tool on the Secretary of State’s website to track whether your absentee ballot has been received and, after Election Day, whether it was counted. If you have a concern about the status of your absentee ballot, you should reach out directly to your local clerk or other local election officials at the polls on Election Day.

Will I need to wear a mask at my local polling place?

It will depend on the rules set by your community. Each city and town will be handling this differently, but local officials are allowed to establish their own mask rules for Election Day.

If a community requires masks inside its polling place, the state says it has to offer another way for an unmasked voter to cast a ballot. That could include setting up a separate entrance and voting area for unmasked individuals or offering voting options outside of the polling place.

What has your voting experience been like during COVID-19? Do you have questions about casting a ballot that we didn't address here? Let us know at elections@nhpr.org. Your feedback will help us better cover the elections from a variety of perspectives.

If a voter refuses those or other accommodations, the state says it would "likely" be legal for a local election official to deny that voter entry inside the polling place.

"If all reasonable means to persuade the voter are exhausted, we believe that current law would likely support a moderator’s decision to inform the voter that he or she cannot enter the polling place," the New Hampshire Secretary of State and Attorney General said in an Aug. 20 memo to local election officials.

What deadlines should I pay attention to?

These dates were taken from New Hampshire's official 2020 political calendar, and other guidance issued by the state. 

June 2, 2020: This was the last day to change your party affiliation before the September state primary. If you tried to change your party affiliation before this deadline but it's still out of date when you show up at the polls, you can request paperwork to update your party at your polling place on Election Day under a special rule in place during COVID-19. Click here for more details on voting in party primaries

Aug. 25, 2020: If you plan to mail your absentee ballot for the September primary, you should aim to do so no later than this date. Election officials are urging voters who plan to mail  their absentee ballots to send them at least two weeks before each election. Though given the high volume of absentee ballots to process this year, it’s best to do this ASAP.

Aug. 26 - Sept. 2, 2020, depending on where you live: If you need to register and aren’t planning to do it in-person on Election Day, the deadline for registering to vote before the election will be somewhere in this window. If you miss this deadline, you can still register at your local polling place on Election Day. For details about your local deadline, contact your local clerk.

Sept. 7, 2020: Labor Day. Also on this day, local election officials “are required to be available between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.” the Monday before an election to receive absentee ballots, according to state election rules. If you miss this, you can still drop off your completed absentee ballot at your polling place anytime before 5 p.m. on Election Day.

Sept. 8, 2020: State primary election. This will determine which candidates from each party advance to the ballot in the November general election. Click here for a list of all the candidates running in the Republican primary, and here for a list of all the candidates running on the Democratic side.   

  • 5 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2020: If you're mailing your absentee ballot, it needs to arrive to your local clerk by this time on Election Day in order to be counted. At this time, New Hampshire does not allow ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive after this deadline.

Oct. 20, 2020: If you plan to mail your absentee ballot for the general election, you should aim to do so no later than this date. Election officials are urging voters who plan to mail their absentee ballots to send them at least two weeks before each election, though ideally as early as possible.

Oct. 21 - Oct. 28, 2020, depending on where you live: The deadline for registering to vote before the general election will fall somewhere in this window but will vary by community. Again, it’s is 6 to 13 days before the election, depending on where you live. If you miss this deadline, you can still register to vote at the polls on Election Day. For details about your local deadline, contact your local clerk.

Nov. 2, 2020: Local election officials “are required to be available between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.” the Monday before an election to receive absentee ballots, according to state election rules. You can drop off your completed absentee ballot at this time, but you will also be able to deliver it in-person anytime before 5 p.m. on Election Day.

Nov. 3, 2020: General election. New Hampshire voters will have a chance to vote for president, but also in races for governor, U.S. Senate, Congress and many other local races. 

  • 5 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2020: If you're mailing your absentee ballot, it needs to arrive to your local clerk by this time on Election Day in order to be counted. At this time, New Hampshire does not allow ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive after this deadline.

Who can I contact if I have other questions or run into problems when trying to vote?

For official questions or concerns about the voting process, you can reach out to:

If you want to let NHPR know about a voting problem for a potential news story, we also want to hear from you. You can email us at elections@nhpr.org, but please keep in mind that this is only for reporting purposes. While we can try to investigate the situation as journalists, we are not able to act in any kind of enforcement capacity. If you are running into a serious problem at the polls or feel your voting rights are being violated, you should report it to election officials using the numbers above.