New Hampshire addresses absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic

April 14, 2020

Last Friday, two top New Hampshire state officials issued a statement clarifying rules around casting absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.

The joint memorandum from New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Attorney General Gordon McDonald attempts to ensure that the right to vote is guaranteed throughout this crisis period. In New Hampshire, some municipalities have yet to hold their town elections; and the state and federal primaries in September, as well as the general and presidential elections in November, are fast approaching.

Form with blue words on white background

Voter Registration, Vote by Mail, by Darylann, Adobe Stock

It is unclear in New Hampshire statute whether the coronavirus outbreak is justification for a voter taking an absentee ballot.

Existing New Hampshire statutes (RSA 657:1) list the circumstances under which voting by absentee ballot is permissible, one of which is due to disability. “Any person who…. is unable to vote there in person by reason of physical disability may vote at such elections as provided in this chapter,” the statute says.

The memorandum broadens the meaning of the term “physical disability” to include circumstances under which the voter is given advice to avoid going out in public, including quarantine and self-quarantine, for any reason because of the coronavirus pandemic. The memorandum states that warnings and advice by medical experts and health organizations are sufficient to warrant absentee voting.

The attorney general and the secretary of state point out that the voters should not have to make a choice between voting and protecting their health. The memorandum says that “any voter may request an absentee ballot for the September 2020 Primary and November 2020 General Elections based on concerns regarding COVID-19.”

The uncharted territory of holding elections in the age of COVID-19 has prompted states to reexamine their existing statutes and make rulings to accommodate the drastic change in circumstances.

Of the 11 states in the CSG Eastern region, five require a voter to provide an accepted excuse in order to be allowed to vote absentee (Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York). Each of these states accepts “illness or disability” as a permitted excuse.  On April 8, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order allowing absentee voting for everyone eligible to vote in the June 23 state and presidential primaries.

Absentee voting and other election laws are some of the many ways in which the COVID-19 outbreak is having a profound impact on our region. CSG East will be updating our website frequently with issues of importance to your state.

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