Covid-phobia Is No Longer a Qualification for Absentee Voting

by | Apr 27, 2022 | Legislation, Opinion, Special Alerts

Pandemic Rules Regarding Absentee Voting Are No Longer In Place.
It’s been well established that the absentee ballot process is less secure that voting in person.
New Hampshire RSA 657:1 limits use of absentee voting to specific circumstances, including disability.

Due to the Covid pandemic, access to absentee voting was greatly expanded for the 2020 election, and was made available to those who feared getting infected if they voted in person.

Absentee voting was covered in an April 10, 2020 Memorandum to New Hampshire Election Officials.
Issued by William M. Gardner, Secretary of State, and Gordon J. MacDonald, Attorney General, it addressed:
Elections Operations During the State of Emergency
“… in light of the current public health state of emergency, Emergency Orders #16 and #26, and current public health guidance on social distancing and avoiding being in public in groups of 10 or more, all voters have a reasonable ground to conclude that a “physical disability” exists within the meaning of RSA 657:1. Therefore, all voters may request an absentee ballot on that basis. Absentee voting is permitted in any circumstance where the voter is under medical advice – whether it is individualized advice or general advice to the public – to avoid being in places like a polling place. In light of the current public health advisories related to COVID-19, any voter who in the voter’s judgment is being advised by medical authorities to avoid going out in public, or to self-quarantine, would qualify to vote by absentee ballot.”
September 8, 2020 Primary and November 3, 2020 General Elections
“It is reasonable to anticipate that voters may feel apprehension about voting in person in the September 2020 Primary and November 2020 General Elections. Voters should not have to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional right to vote. Thus, any voter who is unable to vote in person in the September 8, 2020 Primary Election or the November 3, 2020 General Election because of illness from COVID-19 or who fears that voting in person may expose himself/herself or others to COVID-19 will be deemed to come within the definition of “disability” for purposes of obtaining an absentee ballot. Any voter may request an absentee ballot for the September 2020 Primary and November 2020 General Elections based on concerns regarding COVID-19.”

The Select Committee on 2020 Emergency Election Support agreed with this assessment.
The Committee’s final report stated:
– Absentee registration and voting represents the lowest health risk to officials, poll workers and voters.
– There will be a significant -perhaps massive – increase in absentee voting.

After much debate, the Legislature passed HB 1266 and the Governor signed it on July 17, 2020.
HB 1266 was “as act making temporary modifications to the absentee voter registration, absentee ballot application, and absentee voting processes in response to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) disease.”
HB 1266 suspended the then current absentee voting ballot application and affidavits and authorized new affidavits “prior to any election occurring prior to December 31, 2020.”

The Emergency Orders have ended, Covid has abated and HB 1266 changes have expired.
But the forms reflecting the HB 1266 changes were updated for the 2022 elections, and remained available for download at the Secretary of State website through April 12, 2022.
One form, 2022 ABSENTEE VOTER REGISTRATION REQUIREMENTS AND INSTRUCTIONS, stated:
“You may register to vote by absentee (by mail) if one of the following is true:
You are unable to vote in person by reason of a physical disability, including concern about exposure to infection from COVID-19 or exposing others;”

After disclosure this issue in a public meeting on April 13, 2022, the Secretary of State website has been revised. As of April 14, 2022, the forms, were no longer available at the Request An Absentee Ballot page.
The HB 1266 forms are still listed in a section entitled Voting During COVID-19, but can’t be downloaded.

The forms, available for months, may have been used by Town Clerks and made available to voters.

Posted by GST Chairman Ray F. Chadwick

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