Secretary of State Bill Gardner has overseen New Hampshire elections for more than four decades and worked on voting policy in the Legislature several years before that — but even he’s never seen anything like 2020.
“Here we are, a once in a hundred years type of an election,” Gardner told local election officials during a pre-election huddle Tuesday morning. “But we've at least known about it for enough time that we can all have prepared, like you all have.”
Gardner’s office has taken extra steps beyond their normal training lineup to prepare pollworkers for what’s to come next week. They’ve hosted near-weekly meetings with local election officials since the summer, which have served as forums for questions and concerns on issues ranging from mail delivery to the use of Sharpie markers on absentee ballots. The state has also equipped local election officials with thousands of masks, jugs of hand sanitizer and single-use pens or pencils, in hopes of limiting transmission of COVID-19 at the polls on Election Day.
“It was helpful that we had the primaries back in September, because no one knew for sure how that would all play out,” Gardner said Tuesday morning. “And that was sort of like the spring training, the brief preparation for what’s to come next week.”
While Gardner acknowledged 2020 is much different than any election in recent memory, he also reminded local election officials that it isn’t entirely without precedent: “People before us have had something like this, a little over one hundred years ago,” he noted, an apparent reference to the elections that took place during the 1918 flu pandemic.
It's not clear how many voters will show up in person next week, but as of Tuesday morning, more than 181,000 absentee ballots had already been returned statewide. That’s roughly a quarter of the number of total ballots that were cast, absentee and in-person, in the last presidential election.
"It hasn't been easy, but it will be a lifetime memory I'm sure,” Gardner said. “And we are ready, and I trust all of you are ready as well."