Manchester Poll Workers Learn How to Respond to Active Shooter on Election Day

Aug 24, 2018

It’s a busy time to be a poll worker in the Granite State — there are new voting laws to learn, ballots to count and lots of workshops to attend before the state primary on Sept. 11. On Friday morning in Manchester, local election officials gathered to learn a new set of skills not found in the state’s Election Procedure Manual: How to respond to an active shooter.

Manchester City Clerk Matt Normand organized the training on his own with help from local police.

As a city employee, Normand already went through a similar workshop last year. But with so many people cycling in and out of polling places on Election Day — many of which are located inside schools and other public buildings — he said it’s important for ballot clerks, moderators and other election administrators to also know how to respond in case danger presents itself.

“Just on a municipal election, a lower turnout election, we’ll have 20,000 people coming through polls on election day,” Normand said. “In 2016 — we had almost 51,000 people vote in Manchester. So there’s a lot of people coming through 12 different locations.”

The two-hour session covered a lot of ground but focused heavily on three basic steps: avoiding danger (or figuring out a way to escape as quickly as possible), denying an attacker access to your location if you are trapped and defending yourself in any way you can.

As those attending the training were reminded, it is legal for a lawful gun owner to bring their weapon into a New Hampshire polling place — even one located inside of a school. 

Normand hopes to hold at least one more of these “critical incident response” trainings for poll workers before this fall’s election season is over. And moving forward, he’d also like to see the state support similar active shooter trainings for poll workers across New Hampshire.

Ward 3 Moderator Gail Athas has been working the polls Manchester for years. And the fear that a conversation with an irate voter might escalate into something more serious has crossed her mind in the past.

“We get people who just want to argue,” she said.

But Athas and her colleagues said they felt much more prepared after Friday’s session — which covered everything from basic tourniquet use to the importance of tracking all of a polling place’s possible escape routes. 

When Election Day does roll around, Athas said, “The first thing we’re gonna do is check out the exits.”