CLAREMONT — The volume of absentee voting in Claremont for November’s election has more than doubled that of the 2016 presidential election, though residents have no need to worry about their ballot once in the city’s hands, said Claremont City Clerk Gwen Melcher.
“Our office is very secure and people should have no worries about their ballots being stored,” Melcher told the Eagle Times on Wednesday.
As of Oct. 21, the clerk’s office has issued 1,025 absentee ballots, of which 779 have been returned. In 2016, the city had issued a total of 437 ballots, of which 422 were returned.
Melcher said the office is receiving an average of 50 returned ballots per day. It takes her department, whose staff includes herself and Deputy Clerk Mercedes LaQuire, about two hours to process this many ballots.
Due to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic, the state has extended voter access to absentee voting this year by including virus-related concerns among the allowable reasons to vote by absentee instead of in-person.
When receiving a returned ballot, the department documents the received ballot in a state-managed database. Voters can track their ballot’s status through that database by visiting https://app.sos.nh.gov/Public/AbsenteeBallot.aspx.
The ballots, still sealed inside their inner envelope, are sorted and filed according to the resident’s voting ward, Melcher said.
In typical elections these ballots remain sealed and stored until Election Day, when they are delivered to their ward’s polling place for counting.
This year, however, the state is allowing the local election moderators to “pre-process” the ballots prior to election day.
On Monday, Nov. 2, the moderators from Claremont’s three voting wards will convene in their individual groups, where they will open each outer envelope, verify the voter’s signature on the enclosed affidavit and check off the received ballot in their registry. The ballot will stay sealed in its inner envelope until officially counted on Election Day once the polls open.
The city performed this same procedure on Monday, Sept. 7, with the absentee ballots for the primaries. Melcher, who had supervised the groups, said that waiting until election day to process so many ballots would have taken the moderators several hours atop their other responsibilities.
Yet there are still risks of absentee ballots going uncounted, if voters do not plan properly, Melcher had told The Eagle Times on Sept. 7.
Absentee voters must note two key details that will affect their ballot’s validity.
First, the voter must remember to sign the affidavit enclosed with the ballot. Second, the city clerk’s office must physically receive the absentee ballot no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
The reception deadline could pose a greater problem for voters returning their ballots by mail, according to election officials. The state advises voters to put their return ballot in their mail at least seven days before the election.
On Sept. 7, the day before the primaries, 109 of the 467 absentee ballots issued in Claremont were still outstanding. Of those outstanding ballots, 35% of them were requested within the last week before the election, Melcher had told the Eagle Times.
Currently, 24% of the requested absentee ballots in Claremont remain outstanding, though in some cases the voter may ultimately choose to vote in person rather than complete the absentee ballot.