Your mailbox is probably packed with campaign fliers and get-out-the-vote material these days. With so many voters handling the balloting process by mail this year, it can be confusing to figure out what kind of election paperwork is legit. And if you’re not careful, returning the wrong paperwork to your local elections office could compromise your vote.
In the past week alone, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has issued three different “voter alerts” warning of misleading mailers and text messages about absentee voting from a local Democratic committee, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and an unidentified sender of unsolicited absentee ballot requests. Earlier this year, the state also reprimanded the New Hampshire Republican Party over a series of erroneous absentee voting mailers it distributed this summer.
Here’s how to make sense of the voting solicitations you might be receiving right now.
- First, ask yourself: Did I request this? In New Hampshire, you can only receive voter registration paperwork by mail from your local clerk or the Secretary of State’s office, and only if you’ve formally requested it. Similarly, you’ll only receive an absentee ballot if you requested one from your local clerk. If you can’t remember whether you requested a ballot, you can double check online here.
- Remember: In New Hampshire, you can’t register to vote or request a ballot online. Be wary of text messages, emails or other links inviting you to update your registration or request a ballot online. If you want to check the status of your voter registration, you can do that on the Secretary of State’s website. But if you need to register to vote or update your voter registration, you have to follow these steps. While you can fill out an absentee ballot request electronically, it still has to be printed and hand-delivered — or mailed — to your local clerk.
- If you received an absentee ballot request that you didn't ask for, don’t panic. It’s not unusual, or illegal, for political groups to send absentee ballot requests to voters. If you’re getting one of these, it doesn’t automatically mean someone’s trying to trick you or compromise your vote. But groups that send absentee ballot requests to voters are supposed to clearly identify where the request is coming from. They also need to make sure they’re sending accurate information about absentee voting. If you send in an unofficial absentee ballot request that doesn’t include all of the information required by New Hampshire’s voting laws, it could make it harder to ensure you’ll actually receive your ballot. If you still need to request an absentee ballot, your best bet is to follow the steps listed here.
- Always, always, always check the source. If you’re receiving an absentee ballot, voter registration form or other voting paperwork, can you clearly identify where it’s coming from? If not, you shouldn’t respond and should consider reporting it to the attorney general’s office so they can warn other voters about it, too. Official election paperwork will come only from the Secretary of State or your local clerk’s office, and it will be clearly labeled. On top of that, absentee ballots have another distinguishing feature, as noted by the attorney general’s office: “Secretary of State William M. Gardner's signature appears on the top right corner of the ballot beneath the New Hampshire state seal.”
- Pay attention to paper weight. According to the attorney general’s office, “Official ballots, including absentee ballots, are generally printed on cardstock weight paper.” The state says “exceptions exist” in some cases, including ballots for uniformed and overseas citizens (UOCAVA) and accessible ballots used by voters with print disabilities. But either way, an official absentee ballot would only come to you from your local clerk’s office.
- Don’t treat “sample” ballots like the real thing. Political parties and advocacy groups routinely create “sample” ballots to encourage voters to support certain candidates. If you receive a pre-filled ballot, you shouldn’t send that ballot in as if it were your official vote. As noted by the attorney general’s office, “an official ballot will not have ovals that are filled-in next to candidate names.” The Secretary of State’s office also has “sample” ballots on its website to help voters know who’s on the ballot in different communities. Voters should not print these ballots out and turn them in, either.
- If you still have questions, don't hesitate to reach out to state or local officials. The New Hampshire Attorney General's election hotline is 1-866-868-3703 (1-866-VOTER03) or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can look up the contact information for your local clerk’s office using this tool on the Secretary of State’s website.
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