Editor's note: This post has been updated to clarify that the mailers included requests for absentee ballot registration paperwork, not requests for absentee ballots.
In the years since she lost her 22-year-old son, Tyler, Kelly Simpson has learned to steel herself when opening the mailbox.
“Every now and again a piece of mail comes for him,” she said, “and it takes my breath away.”
But Simpson wasn’t at all prepared for what arrived in Tyler’s name this weekend, seven years after his death: an “official absentee voter registration packet request” from the New Hampshire Republican Party.
That same mailer appears to have been delivered to households across the state in recent days and has raised questions and concerns for many of its recipients: First, because of a mistake in the return address, which erroneously routed voters’ absentee registration requests to Durham regardless of where they lived. And second, because several of the mailers were addressed to people who have been long deceased or never lived at the listed address in the first place.
NHPR spoke to voters in communities across the state — including Concord, Plymouth, Lee and Cornish — who say they, too, received absentee registration request mailers from the state Republican Party bearing the improper addresses.
Some of the individuals who were named on the mailings are not on local voter lists, though several people told NHPR their home was designated as the routine address for the deceased recipient's mail. It’s also not clear how many of the recipients were registered Republican voters or undeclared voters who tended to vote Republican, or how the names came into the possession of the state Republican Party in the first place.
The mailers include a caveat that they’re intended for the named individual “or current resident,” but they have nonetheless brought a mix of grief, confusion and concern to those on the receiving end.
“I mean, you would hope that it was not nefarious, but it was certainly negligent,” said Kathy Stroup, who lives in Lee and received one of the mailers addressed to her late husband, who died in 2006.
Earlier this week, New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Steve Stepanek said the error in the return address on the mailers was due to a “printing mistake.” The party has not responded to questions from NHPR about why the mailers were sent to people who are dead and no longer registered in their communities.
It’s not uncommon for political and advocacy groups to send mail to voters encouraging them to register or vote absentee. The state Republican Party sent a mailer with near identical language to the one it sent this week to Manchester-area voters during a special election in 2017.
“Voting for [the Republican candidate] by mail is as easy as 1-2-3,” that mailer read. That mailer included an absentee ballot application inside; the mailers sent this week included a request for absentee voter registration paperwork.
It’s unclear, however, why at least some of the recent mailers from the state Republican party were directed to voters who are deceased or have no history of voting in New Hampshire. Political campaigns on the left and right will go to great lengths to assemble detailed voter contact databases, often with the help of private firms that purchase the data from state election databases and layer in additional identifying information to allow political groups to target their messages to different subgroups of voters, by mail or on other platforms.
Simpson said she, too, would like to know what list the Republicans were using to draft a voter registration flier in her late son’s name.
“The people that chose to mail this mailing need to be using a more recent and reputable company to obtain their list from,” Simpson said. “Because they, in fact, they wasted money mailing these to people that aren’t even going to utilize them.”
(Have you received this mailer, or any other political mail about voting procedures? We'd like to hear from you, because this will help us better understand the information voters are receiving about the election process. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
On Monday, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office told NHPR they were aware of the mailings and working with local officials “to ensure the appropriate town or city clerks are notified if a voter has submitted this postcard to request an absentee voter registration package."
When NHPR followed up on Tuesday to ask about the mailings being sent to deceased individuals or those who were not registered to vote at the addresses listed, the attorney general’s office declined further comment
“We are continuing to follow-up on this matter,” Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Chong Yen, who oversees the agency’s election law unit, wrote in an email. “As a result, we cannot comment further at this time. We will provide additional information once our review is complete.”
The Secretary of State’s office also declined to comment, despite urging the public to turn to its office for “accurate election information.”
“There is a lot of information that is flying around out there on social media and on the Internet, a lot of it is accurate, but some of it is not,” Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan told local election officials in a recent information session. “If you come across anything that’s inaccurate, it would really be helpful to let us know that as well so we can follow up.”
Officials with the Secretary of State’s office have also been saying that they plan to distribute a statewide informational mailer to every household in New Hampshire with accurate information about the election process, due to COVID-19 and other changes. That mailer has not yet made its way to mailboxes as of press time.
Concord resident Erika Rydberg, another recipient of the misdirected Republican Party mailer, said she wishes the state was more proactive about distributing information about voting.
Rydberg says she’s been living at her current address for four years. But neither she, a registered Democrat, nor her husband, a registered Republican, were named on the mailing that arrived at their home this weekend. Instead, it bore the name of a man she later learned was the deceased father of a previous tenant.
“That kind of misinformation, even if it was a mistake, was unfortunate,” Rydberg said. “I personally am going to vote in person, especially after receiving something like this, even with the safety risk.”
Stroup, who received a mailing addressed to her deceased husband in Lee, said she’s also worried about this incident sowing mistrust in the voting process, and in absentee voting especially. She said few other people in her Facebook circle have posted about receiving the same mailers, and this seems to have provided fodder for people who are already suspicious of the absentee voting process.
“Especially because it came through the mail, the comments that I saw were, ‘See, mail-in voting is no good,’ ” Stroup said. “I feel like I've been spending the last couple of days trying to tamp down these comments saying, ‘You know, this was not the U.S. Postal Service that did this. Voting is OK.’ ”
Safeguards are built into New Hampshire’s election process to ensure that only ballots from valid, living voters are counted.
According to the most recent version of the state’s Election Procedure Manual, “If the election officials counting ballots have knowledge that an absentee voter has died prior to the opening of the polls, the absentee affidavit envelope must not be opened and the vote must not be counted.” Those counting the ballots are supposed to consult with voter checklist supervisors and make record of the objection to that individual’s ballot.
Additionally, individuals who plan to vote absentee can “track” the status of their ballot using a tool on the Secretary of State’s website. While ballots are not counted until Election Day, this allows someone to verify that their vote was processed. Voters can also check whether their current registration status is up-to-date on the same website, or by contacting their local election official. The contact information for every clerk in the state can be found here.
Additional information on how to register and vote during COVID-19 can be found on the Secretary of State’s website.
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