How Can You Vote Safely and Be Sure Your Vote Will Be Counted? | New Hampshire Public Radio

How Can You Vote Safely and Be Sure Your Vote Will Be Counted?

Oct 16, 2020

Election officials say that as of Oct. 13, more than 78,000 general election absentee ballots had already been returned by voters; that's more absentee ballots than were counted in total during the 2016 general election. And plenty of people are still planning to vote in person. We talk with election officials to find out how they are keeping up and what they are anticipating as Election Day, Nov. 3, approaches. We want you to be a part of the conversation, too. Let's hear your questions and comments around the voting process and your experiences so far. Email exchange@nhpr.org to participate or call in during the show: 1-800-892-6477.

Airdate: Monday, Oct. 19, 2020


GUESTS:

  • Bradford Cook - Chair of the State Ballot Law Commission.
  • Patty Little - Keene City Clerk since 1981.
  • Casey McDermott - NHPR Reporter.
  • Diane Trippett -  Town Clerk and Tax Collector for the town of Merrimack.

 

 

Transcript

 

This transcript was machine-generated and will contain errors.

 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy, and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
Two weeks from tomorrow, more Granite Staters than ever before have already cast their ballots by absentee. As of October 13th, almost 80,000 of these ballots have been returned to town and city clerks. But the process is still unfamiliar to many people, little used until this year's covid concerns made some want to stay away from possibly crowded polling places. And there's a lot of misinformation out there to this year about both absentee voting and casting a ballot in person. So today, on The Exchange, we talk to elections officials and find out how you can exercise your right to vote safely and be sure your choice is counted. Exchange listeners tell us what questions or concerns you have about voting this year. We'd love to hear from you. Also, if you're a longtime poll worker or a total newcomer working at the polls this year,

Laura Knoy:
And we're going to begin with Brad Cook, a lawyer and longtime chair of the State Ballot Law Commission. Also NHPR's Casey McDermott, a reporter who's been digging deep into voting rules and practices for us. A big welcome to both of you. I know you're busy, so thank you. And Casey, I gave that number in the introduction, nearly 80,000 ballots sent in as of last week. These numbers are updated every Tuesday. So there'll be new ones tomorrow. Help us put that number into context, Casey, please. Maybe as compared to the last election or as compared to the total number of New Hampshire voters.

Casey McDermott:
Sure, so as you said, the Secretary of State's office has been putting out updated tallies every Tuesday. So we're expecting a new one tomorrow. And if people would like to follow along at home, this is actually being updated on the Secretary of State's website. So you can look for it there, too. But as you said so far as of last Tuesday, about 179,000 absentee ballots had been requested for the general election and more than 78,000 had already been returned. So to put that into perspective, the last kind of comparable election in November of 2016 New Hampshire counted about 75,000 absentee votes in total. So we've already surpassed the number of absentee voters in the last presidential election and we still have several weeks to go. And I would anticipate that those numbers are going to continue to grow. What we've heard from the Secretary of State's office is that they anticipate, you know, barring any kind of significant surges or changes, they've told local election officials that they're expecting the kind of breakdown of absentee versus in-person voting to stay pretty consistent with what we saw in the state primary, where about 30 percent of the voters voted absentee and about 70 percent voted in person. So that's what they're anticipating. And what we should take from that is that, you know, yes, New Hampshire voters and certainly New Hampshire election officials have had to adapt in many ways to accommodate this high volume and absentee ballots. But many people are still planning to do it the kind of traditional way and show up at the polls. And there's a lot of preparations being made for that as well.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Casey overall, what questions or concerns just keep coming up over and over and over again for New Hampshire voters this year?

Casey McDermott:
I think, you know, certainly around the issue of absentee voting, it's a new process for many people. And, you know, just by its nature, there's a lot of paperwork involved. You have to request an absentee ballot and then you have to get your absentee ballot packet. And then there's different forms and things like that to make sure that you fill out correctly. So there's a lot of people that are just as you might expect, are concerned about making sure that they did it correctly to make sure that their vote counts. We've done a ton of work at NHPR to try to make sure that we are providing accurate up-to-date information based on official sources from either the Secretary of State's office or our many conversations with local election officials to try to translate that guidance into something that's easily understood for voters. But when in doubt, it's always a good idea for people to contact either the Secretary of State's office, the attorney general's office or their local clerk for clarification or answers to their questions.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and we did request to have the Secretary of State's office join us today. And in previous shows, they've so far declined. So we'll have to wait and see on that. But I did want to let listeners know that. Brad Cook, to you, what creative ways do you see those hard working city and town clerks using or adapting to a. Dominate everybody's questions and concerns this year.

Brad Cook:
Well, good morning, Laura. It's nice to be here. In the spring when we did a study committee to study how to do this in the fall. We were impressed by how creative and varied the local officials are due to that really tremendous range of sizes of our communities from within 15000 people down to towns that have 250. This last weekend in New London, they had a drive-in absentee ballot day when you could come in and get your application handed in, get your ballot handed in and be done. In Manchester, there's a separate window in the city hall that's open all the time where you can drop off ballots. When I dropped off mine and my wife's last Tuesday, 12,000 people had already filed absentee ballots in Manchester. And you know, the statistic you gave about last Tuesday's results with almost was over 78,000 ballots. A week before there had been 34,000. So that was more than twice as many in one week. And I imagine this week's total is going to have it over one hundred. So the local towns are advertising in their local publications. They're available. I wouldn't bother the Secretary of State or the attorney general if you're in a place with an accessible clerk. And I don't know any places that aren't terribly accessible because they really have the information.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we're going to have two town clerks with us a little bit later to tell us how it's going in their towns, two women with long experience in this issue. I also want to remind listeners that we really love to hear from you today. Casey, you first, one of the big concerns we're hearing from listeners is I don't want to make a mistake on that absentee ballot. What are some typical mistakes that people do make, Casey, in filling out these absentee ballots?

Casey McDermott:
So we can actually just look to preliminary data from the state primary in September for an indication of some of the most common errors that that could cost people their ballots. We got this data from the Secretary of State's office and they also shared kind of a report on it with all local election officials. And the most common issue for people is actually just missing the deadline. So that's a really important thing to keep in mind for people as they're preparing their plans to vote absentee, if that's what they choose. The deadline for returning a completed absentee ballot by mail or by hand delivery, whether you're the one delivering it or whether you have someone who is allowed by state law to deliver it or you may be a family member. That ballot has to be to local election officials by 5:00 p.m. on Election Day.

Casey McDermott:
So what that means is, is if you're mailing it, you really want to plan in advance. And actually, some of the state literature that they have on the Secretary of State's website suggests allowing up to two weeks for that absentee ballot to arrive. So that would mean that if you're planning to mail your ballot, the state recommends in some cases planning to mail it no later than tomorrow; because tomorrow is two weeks before November 3rd. Again, though, if you're worried, you can't get it together in time. Maybe you need some more time to make up your mind. You can drop off your absentee ballot in the presence of a trained election official at your local clerk's office. As you know, Chairman Cook said, many clerks are extending hours or offering kind of satellite voting opportunities for people to drop off their ballots on the weekends or through other means. And then, of course, you can also drop it off on Election Day as well. So the missed deadline is is a really key thing for people to keep in mind.

Casey McDermott:
The other thing, though, is that often it's just a simple kind of paperwork error. When you get an absentee ballot, you have to sign there's an envelope that you put the ballot inside that has an affidavit on it. And basically what that affidavit is, it's attesting that you are eligible to vote, that you've met the requirements that to the best of your knowledge, you are a legal voter in the community that you're trying to vote and that you're allowed to vote by absentee. So that's an important thing to keep with your ballot and to make sure that you return with your ballot. But many people do not return that. So that's a big thing. And then the other thing is making sure to sign that affidavit, to, again, confirm that you are, that your vote is valid. But I should say that this may sound kind of anxiety inducing for a lot of people, but, well, there's so many different ways to mess up. Two things I would say. One is that we put a guide on our website of just kind of breaking down these common mistakes and trying to give kind of a checklist almost for people that they can use when casting their vote. But the other thing is that many communities, because of a change in the law this year, are pre-processing their absentee ballots. So that has allowed, in many cases, voters who made a mistake to be contacted in advance of Election Day to allow time to resolve the situation. It doesn't work out for everyone, and it's not required by law that voters are given an opportunity to correct their mistakes. But that has been a remedy that many poll workers have taken advantage of, because at the end of the day, many people do genuinely want to make sure that every eligible voter can cast their ballot without an issue.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we got a question around the idea of mistakes and so forth that folks might make. Matthew on Facebook asks, How can we overcome the staggering amount of ballots thrown out on technicalities? Matthew says a small variation in signature shouldn't invalidate your ability to participate in elections. And Brad Cook, to you, please, two questions from Matthew's comment. First of all, is there a staggering amount, as he says, thrown out due to technicalities?

Brad Cook:
Oh, no, not in New Hampshire. There may be nationally, but in New Hampshire the comparison of signatures in New Hampshire was negated by a federal court order some years ago. And we don't have that issue. That is an issue in some states, not in New Hampshire.

Laura Knoy:
So there isn't a quote unquote, staggering amount thrown out, and what about the signature issue, Brad, that Matthew raises?

Brad Cook:
As Casey said, the envelope, the inner envelope that goes in the outer envelope, has to be signed and one of two places, depending on the reason, absentee. But we do not do a comparison of that signature with some other signature on file in New Hampshire to invalidate ballot.

Laura Knoy:
Interesting. OK, thank you for writing in. Matthew and Brian in Bartlett writes, I have already voted absentee, filled up my ballot, dropped it off through a covid compliant window to our town clerk. Safe yet no mailing required. We are a small town, Brian says, and I realize this can't work for more populated areas, but it was easy. Brian, thank you for writing. And Brad, it kind of reminds me of what you said a moment ago, that towns are getting creative and really trying to help people not make some of these easy to make mistakes.

Brad Cook:
Well, in the packet that you get ... When when my wife and I got our ballot, there was not only a sheet prepared by the Secretary of State's office that clearly said how to do it. There was also a sticker on the inner envelope that said if you're voting absentee because of a concern about covid-19, here is the box to sign and this is the side to use. So it was as foolproof as possible, even for a lawyer. So it was it was very clear. And unlike the suggestion that it can't happen in a big city in Manchester, it's very easy with a separate window to just go into city hall, avoid any other lines or crowds and hand in your ballot.

Laura Knoy:
What misconceptions, Brad, does the public have about how easy it might be to cheat with absentee ballots? Because I think a lot of listeners don't understand that there's a lot of cross-checking that goes on. It isn't, just any random person can't send these things in.

No. And a lot of concern has been raised by certain statements by President Trump and others about absentee ballots. Although I have to say that I got a mailing that when I picked up my mail this morning, I had a mailing at home with President Trump looking right at you, saying, please get your absentee ballot in. So I'm not sure about the mixed messages, but in any event, it's not fraught with danger. You have to apply. You have to prove things. When you apply, you have to say where you live. Every ballot gets its own barcode. You can go on the Secretary of State's website and see exactly where your ballot is after you have requested and received it, because it's got an individual barcode. They know if it's been mailed. They know if it's been received and you can find that out. Everybody gets an individual one we have not had in the history of elections in New Hampshire, almost any incidents of fraud. This is not a everybody gets a ballot in the mail state. It's not an everybody votes by mail state. Those places have their own issues and their own processes. But I think people should be very sanguine about the safety and effectiveness of absentee voting this year. And the safety is important because of this pandemic, which is getting worse.

Laura Knoy:
You have to use an absentee ballot sent to you by your city or town clerk. And that's where the connection comes in. You're already registered voter, the city, your town clerk knows this. And so they send you an absentee ballot when you request it, though, but you have to request it. Is that correct? That's correct. Yeah. So Vermont sends all registered voters absentee ballots automatically. You don't have to request it. What's the philosophical difference there, Brad? Why do we have to specifically requested in New Hampshire?

Brad Cook:
I assume they made a decision that they wanted to have a high turnout. Of course, the number of voters in Vermont is less than half of New Hampshire, but they they made a decision for their state on how they were going to do it. And I assume they have some safety mechanisms built into those absentee ballots when they are returned so that they're secure.

Casey McDermott:
Well, and this raises the question, Casey, that I heard you address on the Weekly News Roundup on Friday, parties, groups sending out sample ballots. This is confusing to people. Sometimes they think it's the real thing. Alden in Hartland, Vermont, says: Please let people know that a sample ballot was sent out to some residents of Lyme and Hanover. Alden says obviously this should not be used. If people are voting by mail, please make sure to use an official ballot from the town clerk. Alden, I'm so glad you wrote because Casey, it is confusing. I've gotten a couple of these ballots from different groups saying, you know, here's the ballot. What is the purpose of these quote unquote, sample ballots, Casey?

Casey McDermott:
Yeah, I mean, think of them like any other piece of campaign material that you're receiving. . It's from a a campaign, a candidate, a advocacy group that wants to show you their preferred candidate or the candidate that supports their values. The other thing to keep in mind is that, you know, the the state puts out sample ballots, not pre-filled, like those ones that you may get in the mail, but as an educational tool, which is a completely valid thing for the state to do, to show people and allow voters to research before they get their ballot or before they go into the voting booth, who is actually going to be on their ballot. But the other thing to keep in mind is that you should not print out those ballots from the Secretary of State's office and mail them out as though they were the real thing. Nor should you return one of those pre-filled ballots that you may receive in the mail. Again, like you said, you can only return an absentee ballot that you have received directly from your local clerk. The other thing that's been kind of confusing for people is there have been a number of other mailings going out where people have received absentee ballot requests that they did not ask for, and that's caused a little bit of alarm.

Casey McDermott:
But what's important for people to understand is that anyone can send anyone else an absentee ballot request. That's not just because you're receiving one of those does not mean that someone's trying to trick you or compromise your vote or something like that. If you do get one of those requests, though, or really any other piece of political mail, it's supposed to be clear who's sending those. And in some cases, people have received those requests that have not been clearly marked or included a clear explanation of who's behind it. So when in doubt, check the sources, make sure you're reading carefully. We again have another kind of explainer for people on our website right now that can kind of take you through, you know, how to make sense of the various voting solicitations that you may be receiving right now so that you can understand what is and is not legit. And this is, again, based on our own research, as well as advice that the attorney general's office has put out. So we compiled that all into one place on our website.

Laura Knoy:
Well, lots more questions from our listeners. But Brad Cook, I know we're going to let you go, but I want to ask you one last question, please. At the national level anyway, Brad, I keep seeing predictions that this year's turnout will, quote, shatter previous turnout records. You've been following elections for a long time. What precedents do you see, Brad, with this?

Brad Cook:
Well, that's correct, that I hope every election has a record turnout because that's the best news for democracy, especially in this year of the pandemic. But this year, it really reminds me of 1980 only in reverse. In 1980, you might recall, Jimmy Carter had been president for four years. There was a former actor from California, a former governor, running against him, who some people didn't take as seriously as ultimately he would be taken. And right up to the election, it wasn't clear what was going to happen. But you had a feeling something was happening. And when election night came, not only had Reagan decisively beaten Carter, but the Republicans had taken the United States Senate for the first time in a generation. And in fact, Carter conceded at eight o'clock at night in Washington when it was still five o'clock on the West Coast, which probably had some effect on some of those congressional races. But it was a complete reversal. And in New Hampshire, the one term Democratic governor against the tide of Hugh Gallen was re-elected, even though the Republicans did very well in all the other things. So I look and I suspect although who knows? And weeks we'll find out. But I am reminded of 1980, only the parties are reversed.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Brad Cook, I'm thinking we'll be talking to a couple more times in the next few weeks. Thank you very much for giving us your time today. We really appreciate it. Good to be with you. Take care.

Brad Cook:
Thank you.

Casey McDermott:
That's Brad Cook, a lawyer and longtime chair of the State Ballot Law Commission. Coming up, we will continue talking with NPR's Casey McDermott and we'll invite two town clerks with us to tell us what's been happening with all the ballot collecting and voter questions in their towns.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy. Today we're answering your questions about voting and hearing your experiences if you've already voted absentee, along with our elections reporter Casey McDermitt. We're talking now with Patty Little, Keene City clerk since 1981, and Diane Trippett, town clerk and tax collector from Merrimack since 1995. Well, Patty and Diane, I know you are crazy busy, so I really appreciate you being with me this morning. And Patty, two first two weeks from tomorrow is Election Day. What kinds of questions are you hearing from Keene voters right now, Patty?

Patty Little:
You know, we're having some discussions about how they can get their absentee ballot back to us as efficiently as possible. We've mailed out close to 4000 and we still have a thousand that haven't been returned. So we're doing a little push through our local media to encourage folks to complete the ballot and get it back to us, either through the mail or a walk in to our office or deliver to the polls on Election Day. So a lot of people just sort of following up on what's the status of my absentee ballot. Is it too late to get an absentee ballot? And I have one, and how can I get it back to you?

Laura Knoy:
Well, in a moment, Patty, I'll ask you a question about tracking. And people do want to keep track of their ballots. But, Diane, to you, you've been doing this for a long time. To what does this year feel like for you in Merrimack?

Diane Trippett:
Yes, thank you. It's been challenging. This is probably going to go down in the record books as one of our most historic elections in terms of absentee ballots for Merrimack. We actually this is our third election dealing with covid, we were one of the towns that were not able to have our traditional town meeting, we're an SB-2 town. So we were the guinea pig, if you will, trying to figure this all out and how to do voting with covid. So we feel very comfortable going into the November election, although it is extremely busy, as you've pointed out. But where we're comfortable and we are ready.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I remember you guys being the guinea pig and kind of taking some of the first steps on this. What have you learned, Diane, given that you did a town meeting, town elections, and then you also did the September primary? So what what have you sort of picked up along the way?

Diane Trippett:
Just process improvement, just being able to stay lean, have your plan together, having enough help. That was really critical. We realized in June, going through this pandemic, having the high volume of absentee ballots and trying to figure out how we were going to handle all of these where we have other work duties to do during the day. When an election rolls around. It's like absorbing a whole entire department within your department and you're adding on and just a whole nother function.

Diane Trippett:
And so our biggest concern was staffing and making sure the process for the next two elections was going to be was going to flow. Well, we did a lot of time studies. We estimated how many voters we thought we were going to have voting in each of the elections. And we really started buckling down for September and November. Right as soon as that June election got over.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Well, let's go to our listeners, both of you. And Angela is calling in from Munsonville. Hi, Angela. Go ahead. You're on the air.

Caller:
I think that I may be in error. I thought you could print a ballot from the website, but I believe what you can print, I mean, an absentee ballot, but I believe what it is you can print is an application for one.

Laura Knoy:
So is that what you did, Angela? You printed the application.

Caller:
You can print the application. And then submit it and then get the ballot from the town clerk.

Laura Knoy:
So what's happened for you, Angela? Have you gotten your ballot now from the town clerk there?

Caller:
We already voted. That's all I have to say.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I'm glad that you called! And Casey McDermott. It's worth repeating. There's a lot of sort of sample ballots and stuff that you can print out. But in terms of what you actually fill out, Casey, with that pen, as you told us in an interview last week, is only the thing that you get from the city and town clerk. It's worth repeating that, Casey.

Casey McDermott:
Right. So for for absentee voting, as Angela said, you can print out the the application for an absentee ballot or you can request a copy directly from your local elections office. Or you can actually write out your own application as long as it includes all of the information that is required by law. So there are several different ways to do that. But to Angela's larger point, yes, please do not treat sample ballots like a real thing. So that's whether you're getting the sample ballot from the Secretary of State's website, from your local clerk's website or from one of those advocacy groups that may be sending it to you in the mail.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Casey, the question that you ended up investigating in some detail last week is what type of writing implement to use? Roger wrote us this morning. He says: As I look to fill out my mail in ballot, I discovered there's no reference to the type of writing instrument to use, nor is there any instruction as to what types of writing instruments are acceptable for marking ovals on the physical ballot. Roger says, Does it matter? Georgeann also emails on this. She says: Some very smart folks I know have made the mistake of using a marking pen to fill in the ballot bubbles. The ink bleeds to the other side and ruins the ballot. Georgeann says, please warn folks about this now. Casey, you spent a lot of time on this, so I'm going to let you go ahead and just sort of tell people what implement they should use, but also not to worry if they did end up using the marker by mistake. Go ahead, Casey.

Casey McDermott:
Yeah, I got to say, I was not expecting Sharkey's to play such a prominent role in my reporting on this election, but and it's been somewhat, you know, I can understand voter confusion because there's been some mixed messages on this actually in recent weeks.

Casey McDermott:
So basically, what tipped me off to this at first was we started hearing some questions from listeners. But then I also was chatting with the town clerk in Hanover, Betsy McClain, who said that they were getting a lot of calls and that they had deemed it Sharpie-gate in their office because of the level of kind of confusion and concern that this had elicited. And then I was listening in on the Secretary of State's office has been hosting these information sessions that are open, that are public meetings with local election officials where they deal with kind of questions like this that are coming up. And in that setting, Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said that they were aware of the issue, but that as long as that bleed through does not fill in an oval on the other side of the ballot. So it's a two sided ballot and ideally the ovals should not overlap. So it should not be an issue, is the message that the Secretary of State's office was sending a few weeks ago. And Deputy Secretary of State Scanlon also told local election officials that any type of writing utensil can be used. It can be a pen, it could be a pencil. And he said for that reason, there are no specific instructions on the ballot as far as what writing utensil to use. However, we should we should point out that actually after, at some point since then, the Secretary of State actually has updated their website to be more specific about what writing utensils to use. And the Secretary of State is now telling people do not use a Sharpie or marker to mark your ballot and please use a pen or number two pencil. I've reached out to the Secretary of State's office just to try to clarify, because those are somewhat contradictory messages that they've been sending on that. And I will do my best to report out as as quickly as possible what people should make of this guidance.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. OK, well, let's take another call. And this is James in Concord. Go ahead, James. You're on the air.

Caller:
Hi, Laura, thanks for taking my call. I work at the Disability Rights Center and I just wanted to let listeners know about a few topics related to accessibility for voters on Election Day. So if people are planning to vote in person, every polling location in the state has an accessible voting system and it allows people who are blind or have print disabilities to vote privately and independently. So it's not just reserved for folks that have disabilities. Anybody can use it, but it will be available everywhere throughout the state. For people who have print disabilities and want to vote absentee, the Secretary of State's office is now offering an accessible absentee voting option. This is new this year and it allows people who would otherwise not be able to mark their ballot privately, the ability to do so. So more information about that option is available on the Secretary of State's website. And then people with disabilities should also be aware that they have the right to bring someone with them to the polling place to help them complete a ballot if they're unable to complete it on their own. As long as the person is not a voter's employer or union representative, they can bring anybody that they want. And for voters who are looking for more information on where candidates stand on disability issues, the PRC is launching a series of videos today that involves a local college student filmmaker interviewing all the major party candidates for governor, Senate and U.S. House. Finally, if voters have issues with accessible options on polling day, the DNA will be available to take calls as well as the Secretary of State's office, the AG's office.

Laura Knoy:
James, really glad you called. Important information. Thank you. And all of you, we've gotten several emails from voters who are concerned about tracking their ballots, how they can tell if their ballot is rejected. I'll just share a little bit with you. Charles emails and says: I'm a registered voter in Bedford who has successfully submitted his ballot for the general election. According to the state voter information Web site, my ballot has been received, but there's no indication as to whether my ballot will be rejected or is undeliverable. Furthermore, he says, I believe the town website indicates that this information may not be available until after the election. Although I understand, Charles says, that the ballot has been successfully received, I'm still not sure if the ballot is adequate for processing. The Bedford Town website seems to indicate that notification of whether or not a ballot was counted will not be available until after the election process. If this is the case, then I would have no opportunity to correct an error that might result in my ballot being rejected. Now, Patty, you're not in Bedford, you're in Keene. But what about this idea of tracking the ballot, knowing that it's a) been received and B, that it's been counted?

Patty Little:
Thank you for the question. So the that tracking ballot option on the state's website does indicate whether the ballot has been sent or received back from the local court, but it does not indicate whether the ballot has issues associated with the affidavit component or whether it's going to be marked actually counted on Election Day, because that information's not going to happen until. Well, actually, two things. One, the state is allowed some pre-processing of absentee ballots. So if during that pre-processing the moderator becomes aware that there's a problem with the affidavit, either it's not signed or the affidavit envelope is not contained in the outer envelope, we have been recommended from the state that we try to contact the voter to advise them of the issue and ask them to correct the the affidavit problem by either coming into the office and signing a new affidavit or reapplying for the full packet again with another ballot or going to vote on Election Day. So the idea that you can correct a deficiency on your affidavit is a recommendation from the state tha those communities that are doing preprocessing provide voters with that information. In terms of whether the ballot is counted. That is information that only happens on Election Day. So that's why that the state's website would never indicate whether the ballot is counted or not, because it's just not that current. However, the other state recommendation is, if there is a ballot that's canceled on Election Day, at least has been the practice of our office, is that we notify the voter of that fact and give them an explanation of the reason it was canceled.

Laura Knoy:
So pre-processing Patty sounds like it's very important this year somebody sends in an absentee ballot. You get it today, for example, and it isn't signed right or something. You still have the opportunity to contact that voter and say, you know, this isn't quite right. Do you want another ballot? Do you want to come in? You still have that opportunity.

Patty Little:
That's right. And this is this is our second opportunity for pre-processing. And it was a special, it's a temporary piece of legislation. So I don't know if this will always be afforded an opportunity that local communities can do pre-processing after we get through our covid pandemic. But yes, it does give us an opportunity to catch a few these affidavits that would have been disqualifying if they had not been identified early on.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, well, like I said, I've got several emails around this same theme of people worried that they made a mistake, worried that their ballot would be rejected. Linda writes, The printed label on my ballot envelope included my middle initial of my name. After I mailed it back, Linda says, I realized I signed my name without my middle initial. Linda says, will it be accepted? And Diane, what can you tell her about that, please?

Diane Trippett:
In my ward, my polling location, and I'm sure in most every other one, yes, it would be accepted as long as as long as it's signed and it appears signed by the voter. We do not know how voters sign their name traditionally. But, yes, if there's a signature on there, we would absolutely accept that.

Laura Knoy:
Ok, Casey, Diane, Patty, let's go back to the phones. Pedro is calling from Concord. Hi, Pedro. Go ahead. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Good morning. Thank you guys for having me. First, I wanted to thank the panel and the clerks for their service, obviously, during this year. And this added responsibility. And as mentioned, could be very demanding over your initial responsibilities. And oftentimes of course, you know, they get more rash and they do more praise during the time of the year. I think I want to extend a thank you for your service, especially with your tenure, it's very much appreciated. But what I wanted to mention is a question on kind of reaching populations here in rural New Hampshire that don't have access to reliable computers, reliable Internet or even have an email account. We do live in rural America as much as we would be thinking there's a lot of places that don't. But most New Hampshire is very rural. I'm just particularly, you know, thinking about marginalized communities as well that don't have access to these kind of technology and reliable broadband. So looking to see what examples our towns are using to provide access to those folks who quite literally don't know about the election or even know about, and I know it's not particularly in your avenue, but know about candidates and what their stance are on certain things. But I'm just very curious about what things are being done on that.

Laura Knoy:
Pedro, I'm so glad you called. And Casey McDermott, you know, in one sense, there's so much information now, but in another sense, Pedro is right. Some people live in isolated communities. Some people have poor Internet access. So just broadly, Casey, I wonder what you think about Pedro's comment.

Casey McDermott:
That's a really, really, really good question. And I think the the kind of information barrier we see play out in a number of different ways. As Pedro said, there's obviously, you know, broadband is a huge issue across New Hampshire. So in that case, people may have to call their Clerk and, you know, rely on kind of conversations via phone or in person where they may otherwise be able to, you know, look things up online more more easily. The other thing that we've seen, too, is, is language barriers. You know, New Hampshire only makes official election information available in English. That's something that a number of community advocates, particularly in Manchester and Nashua, that have large immigrant populations, have been trying to get the state to change. And at this point, the state has said that, you know, it's not required by law to make the information available in other languages. But they have encouraged people at the community level to recruit bilingual or multilingual poll workers. And a number of community advocates have actually taken on considerable work themselves to distribute information in their communities. I was talking to someone the other day who said that she was planning to go around to different markets, different churches, gathering places or places where she knew people who may need the information would would be congregating so that she could ensure that no one was overlooked.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Pedro, glad you called. And Casey gave me a perfect segue for what we're going to talk about in our next segment. Poll workers, observers who can work at the polls, who can't, who can be an observer at the polls and who can't, because that's been an issue as well. And we'll keep taking your calls. We'll be right back.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. This hour, we're answering your questions about voting in a year where there are so many. With us for the hour, NHPR reporter Casey McDermott, along with Patty Little, Keene City clerk, and Diane Trippett, town clerk and tax collector for the town of Merrimack. Both Patty and Diane have been in those roles for decades. And all of you, right back to our listeners. Diane's calling in from Laconia. Hi, Diane. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Hi, Laura. Thank you. I'm a relatively newly retired for about two years, and I heard that they had a shortage of poll workers from a friend of mine here in Laconia. And so I thought, well, I can volunteer and help and just for one day. So I did. And I just would recommend it to anybody that has a chance to at least volunteer. Well, you're not a volunteer. They actually pay you. But so I would recommend it to anybody. It just really it confirmed my confidence in our voting process anyway. And the way they handled the absentee ballots was really interesting. It's like so you have the voter checklist in front of you for whatever alphabet group you have. And then the the the moderator gives you a bundle of absentee ballots throughout the day, when there's a lull, or at the end of the day and then you find this person, you don't have to open the ballot or anything. You just see that person's name on the envelope. You find them on your check list. And everybody that's requested a absentee ballot, their name is highlighted with the yellow highlighter.

Laura Knoy:
And so easy to do.

Caller:
Yes. Yes, it is. And then I just marked through their name because we've gotten their ballot. And then I put them back in the stack and the moderator comes in and picks them up, you know, after I've gone through them. And I just thought, well, gee, that's neat. They know they know who to expect their ballots. And at the end of the day, they can see who didn't turn in for whatever purpose that would serve.

Laura Knoy:
So Diane if I can ask you a question. So it's great that you called because I was curious about, you know, as someone who just is new to this whole process, I wonder, Diane, what did you come to being a poll worker volunteer? What ideas did you have in your mind before you started? And how were those ideas perhaps changed or better informed by your experience?

Caller:
Well, you know, I had no idea what the setup is. And so I guess I didn't I didn't know how the the absentee ballots were taken care of, but, you know, just regular voting too. I'm not sure if I can answer that. I just had the time and I had the inclination to help. But I'm not sure if that answers your question.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. And it's great to hear from you and good for you for stepping up. And all of you, it does raise a question that I wanted to ask you about. And maybe you first, Patty, in Keene, there are all these groups now that are encouraging us to volunteer at the polls, you know, groups from all over the country. What should people do if they want to help out at the polls? Should they fill out, you know, these requests from these national groups or should they call You?

Patty Little:
Well, you know, we're getting emails from various voting rights groups offering their services. For the city of Keene, we've developed and have used for the last probably 10 national election cycles, a volunteer portal where we talk about the types of opportunities to volunteer. So we have greeters. We have folks that help just sort of manage lines. We have opportunities to assist with voter registration, opportunity to assist at the end of the night. And so we direct all of our inquiries to this Web portal. Not only does an individual be able to sort of select the job, they also select the time commitment. Do they want to work in the mornings of the afternoons? So that's how we handle our volunteers. We have probably over 100 volunteers that will be deployed for November 3rd in various capacities for some positions that will require some training. There are others just sort of get a one page sort of here's sort of the triage of the questions you want to ask. And depending on the response, this is the information you want to provide. But, you know, when you have an election staff, that's really it's your friends and your family and your neighbors that are having all of these various roles, whether it's the moderator or the selectmen or ballot inspector. But on these national elections, we need to go beyond our traditional staffing and really bring in enough support that we've got enough bodies in place to keep the voters sort of going at a nice pace and not having any backlogs because we haven't staffed adequately.

Laura Knoy:
So, Patty, do you screen people who want to volunteer to make sure that they don't have ulterior motives? You know, I know having volunteered for various organizations, sometimes they do want to screen you to make sure that you're not a troublemaker.

Patty Little:
One of the questions on our Web portal is sort of asking what is driving them to volunteer? And as a member of my staff is just doing the volunteers and she has an individual conversations with each of those folks. Not that we sort of go to the point of which are ulterior motive, but while we're chatting with them, it often goes into anecdotal information about themselves and their residency in Keene. So I wouldn't say that we're really screening people, but we're just trying to find the best fit for folks.

Laura Knoy:
How about you, Diane in Merrimack? Do you screen your volunteers?

Diane Trippett:
I do not personally. What we do here in Merrimack is I refer all of our volunteers to our town moderator Lynn Christensen. And we have a pretty well-set core or a group of core volunteers and election workers that work every election who have been doing this for a while. They are trained. But when something like this, a pandemic comes along, as other communities are finding, a lot of them are just not comfortable working and don't want to be out there in this. So we have been receiving, very generously, a lot of our residents who have taken the day off and are willing to step up and and help. And so what we're doing is I am sending all of those volunteers to Lynn, all of the contact information. She has a person at each, we have three polling locations in Merrimack. So she has a primary person at each polling location who kind of helped her fill slots and she works with them and the list of volunteers to get them seated. I believe there's a number of questions that they just kind of, as Patty said, go through, find their strengths, their weaknesses, where they'd be appropriate for them, what position to put them in.

Laura Knoy:
Well, yeah. And Diane, I'll ask you this next question. We've gotten a couple of questions from listeners that I'll just consolidate into one question. Some people are concerned that there might be people bringing weapons into the polling place. New Hampshire is a, you know, an open carry state. But some people are concerned that there might be voter intimidation by people carrying weaponry at the polls. So what are the rules in Merrimack around that, Diane?

Diane Trippett:
Well, my understanding is that the polling location is not a school for that day. It's the polling location. I would really have to defer, honestly, I'm a town, so my roles and responsibilities are a little less than, say, Patty's in a city where she's the chief election officer. In a town our moderator is the chief election officer. And we would have to,you know, I would I would honestly defer to her.

Laura Knoy:
Sure, let's do that, Patty. We'll toss to you. Yeah, go ahead.

Diane Trippett:
The police, to see, but yes, I believe a polling location, they can, there's some fine lines there when you're using a school.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, my personal polling place is not a school. It's a city rec center. So go ahead, Patty, please.

Patty Little:
So this question has been raised several times during the various Zoom meetings that the state has been having. And Diane is correct that on Election Day, whether we're in a city facility or a school facility or a private facility, when we are occupying that facility as a voting location, it becomes, sort of, it is considered a public activity. And any sort of restrictions that may or may not be in place every other day of the year does not apply on Election Day. So in terms of guns, there is no restriction from carrying a firearm into a public location. So that will include Election Day and it will involve locations that may be every other day of the week, may be a school facility. That being said, we have been encouraged by the state to have police officers in place at all of our polling locations throughout the day, not really for the issue of firearms, because I really never had that, even though there's always been the possibility. It's never really happened here in Keene. But there are some concerns about voter intimidation, sort of the discussions that are occurring out in the parking lot, in the campaign areas. So we have received support from our police officers to actually be at the polling locations throughout the voting hours.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and here's a question, Casey McDermott, I'm going to throw it to you. We've received this question in several different iterations again this morning. So I'll read what Laura in Peterborough wrote. But a lot of people have a similar question. Laura says, I applied for a mail-in ballot, which I have received. In the meantime, she says, I've decided I'd rather vote in person. I call my town clerk and was told to discard the mail-in ballot and just come in to vote on Election Day. Laura says, I want to make absolutely sure I can do that. So, Casey, can people change their minds this late in the game?

Casey McDermott:
Yes. Yes, they can. And again, you know, it sounds like the caller did the right thing and called her local clerk to to double check to get that official information. But, yes, you can change your mind if you have requested an absentee ballot and have not cast it. And in fact, you also if you've already sent back an absentee ballot and if you get to the polling place before your ballot has been officially processed, you know, now that will require more coordination and more checking to make sure that your ballot has not been counted or not been, you know, set aside for counting yet. You can also show up and try to vote in person if you've changed your mind after you submitted your absentee ballot. There are processes in place to make to make sure that, you know, no one votes more than once whether they've done it absentee or in person.

Laura Knoy:
It's that crosschecking that Brad Cook told us about before. Again, you know, no, just random person. Casey can, you know, grab an absentee ballot and fill it out. You have to be a registered voter and there's going to be a cross-check that takes place at the polling place. Patty, there's been so much conversation about how long this is going to take now. Obviously, you can't speak to, you know, other states or other towns. But what about in Keene? What are you planning for in terms of how late you will be up counting?

Patty Little:
Well, I remember a national election that I left at daybreak, so I'm hoping that it's not that. You know, it really is a difficult gauge because of the amount of close-out process that really is where you could be anywhere from three, five to six hours after the polls close, just being able to complete the various reconciliation of the votes and the vote tabulation. This year we actually, in anticipation of this surge of absentee ballots, acquired a second vote counting machine for every ward, which essentially that sounds great, but essentially means we're running two elections and we got to close out two elections. So I'm not sure if that really was the best idea for us to purchase these machines because it is doubling the workload now. But hopefully we, as Diane talked about sort of a lean process. We've looked at our documentation and try to get down and dirty as to what needs to happen on election night for the close out.

Laura Knoy:
And just to be clear, Patty, absentee ballots won't be counted until five o'clock Election Day?

Patty Little:
Oh, no. No, the law allows you to start processing absentee ballots at 9:00 a.m. Start at 9:00 a.m., but it could well go past the voting hours.

Laura Knoy:
That's right. You have to have them in by 5:00 o'clock. Ok. All of you, we could have talked for another three hours. I really appreciate you being with us. Casey McDermott, thank you very much for your time. That's NHPR elections reporter Casey McDermott. Patty Little, great to talk to you. Good luck on election night. Thank you so much. That's Patty Little, Keene City Clerk for many decades. And Diane Trippett, good luck to you, too. Only two weeks left. Thank you. Thanks for being with us, Diane. She's town clerk and tax collector for Merrimack. And today's show was produced by Jessica Hunt. This is The Exchange on NHPR.