New Hampshire: How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election
What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.
November 3 will be here sooner than you think, as will the voter registration and absentee ballot deadlines you memorized for approximately 10 seconds. Thankfully, New Hampshire's voting system is fairly easygoing and provides a lot of different options. We put together a guide to the deadlines, rules, and regulations you absolutely need to know to make sure your vote counts in the 2020 General Election.
New Hampshire has added a "concern over COVID-19" category to its absentee ballot regulations that makes it possible for everyone to vote by mail. You can also register to vote on Election Day if you mess up the mail-in steps or simply forget. Try to register in advance if you can, though, because voting in person is likely going to feel a lot slower and more stressful this year. Happy voting!
What’s the deadline to register to vote in New Hampshire?
Lazy citizens who are planning to vote in person will be happy to know that you can register and vote on Election Day. Otherwise the deadline for registering by mail is Wednesday, October 21, 2020, meaning the county clerk's office has to receive the registration by that day (*cough* send it in advance!).
How to register to vote in New Hampshire
You can see if you're registered to vote by entering your information into the Secretary of State's voter information lookup site. If you're not on file, you're not registered. That means you need to either register in person or contact your county clerk directly to request a registration form, which you must send back to that office before the October 21 deadline.
Can I vote early? When does early voting start in New Hampshire?
There is no early voting period in New Hampshire. However, if you're unable to vote in person on Election Day, you can request an absentee ballot by mail or by visiting your local election office. New Hampshire's absentee ballot requirements appear to be a bit more restrictive than other "no excuse necessary" ballot states, but if you read the list of reasons why voters can request an absentee ballot, you'll see that "concerns over COVID-19" is an acceptable excuse. If you're curious, the other excuses are being absent from your city or town, a religious observance, disability, illness, and employment commitments that extend through the voting period (this includes caregiving), among others.
You can return your completed absentee ballot ahead of Election Day, which is sort of like early voting.
Can I vote by mail?
Thanks to the state's willingness to accept concerns about COVID-19 as an excuse to vote absentee, any eligible voter can request an absentee ballot and return it via mail. It's not as simple as other states' straight-up vote-by-mail options, but it's certainly a good way to avoid crowds -- and the potential to pick up for spread coronavirus -- at the polls on Election Day.
How to request an absentee ballot in New Hampshire
Fill out the absentee ballot application and submit it to your local election office as far in advance as possible. Make sure to select your reason for voting by mail (as mentioned earlier, concern over COVID-19 is considered valid). You should know that New Hampshire is getting some heat for their deadlines from the USPS, which recommends all states receive and return their ballots no later than October 27 to give the postal service ample time. NH's deadlines are extremely, concerningly lax -- the state just recommends seven days in advance of the election. We strongly recommend you request the ballot at least two weeks early, and send it back a week in advance. The earlier the better.
How to vote absentee in New Hampshire
Read the instructions on the ballot and fill it out as carefully as you can. This is crucial. The same goes for returning your absentee ballot in the proper envelopes. The state outlines each step of the process in great detail. It would behoove you to familiarize yourself with each step.
As mentioned above, NH is so casual with its deadlines that you should probably just listen to the USPS recommendations and mail your ballots no later than October 27, 2020.
Is there a way to track my absentee ballot? How can I make sure it’s counted?
You can track your ballot on the same website you use to see if you're registered to vote, or contact your local clerk directly, but both options are only available to you after the ballot is received and processed. If you'd like to follow the ballot on its complete journey, you can keep part of the letter's tracking label and search it via the USPS's website. The most reliable way to track a letter is to add certified mail service at the time of mailing, which requires that you go to the post office.
If you're still concerned about your ballot getting lost or delayed in the mail and not getting to election officials in time, you can hand deliver it to your local clerk.
How can I stay safe while voting in person?
If you're planning to go to the polls, it's important to review the COVID-19 safety guidelines and plan your trip accordingly.
"Polling places will be open for those who wish to vote in person on election day," the state said in a COVID-19 information mailer to voters. "Precautions are being made to keep voters and poll workers safe. Personal protective equipment including masks, face shields, plastic table-top screens, gowns, gloves, hand sanitizer, single use pens and pencils, and writing mats for voting surfaces will be provided in the polling place. Social distancing will be practiced along with sanitation measures recommended by public health officials. Contact your city or town clerk or moderator for more information."
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has also issued several very specific recommendations for how to keep yourself and others safe while voting in person this November.
Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, according to its official election guidance page:
- Wear a mask.
- Keep a distance of at least six feet from others.
- Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after touching surfaces.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
- Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment, but sanitize before and after touching it.
- Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. Drive-bys are always a good idea.
- Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home, and make sure to bring any necessary documents. In New Hampshire, those voting in person at a polling location must present a valid form of ID, like a state ID, driver's license, or student ID.
- Bring your own black ink pen or stylus (but check in with a poll worker before using it).
- If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location.