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By CATHERINE McLAUGHLIN
GILFORD – Yesterday, I walked to my town hall, into the town clerk’s office, and cast my absentee ballot in the state primary election. I decided to vote this way because it seemed the safest and least-burdensome on town officials and an opportunity for me to cast my vote and ensure that it would be received in time.
The whole process took about 15 minutes and eight rounds of hand sanitizer (some of which I used in lieu of saliva to seal the ballot envelopes).
I am a college student who must move out in less than two weeks, and the post office has said to expect delays in shipping absentee ballots, so I was concerned that I may not receive an absentee ballot in time if I had it mailed to my home in Gilford. I did not want to risk having an absentee ballot mailed to me at school because the mail system there is notorious for losing letters (though it is otherwise very reliable).
I am both unable to go to the polls in person because I will be in campus-quarantine and apprehensive to put any additional stress on poll workers. I also know that submitting absentee ballots as early as possible helps relieve stress down the line for town clerks.
So, I walked into the town hall, masked up as always and accompanied by my older sister, who also voted absentee that day. We told the clerk we wanted to vote absentee in the primary and request our general election absentee ballots.
The clerk found us on the voter registration roll, verified our identities, and handed us absentee ballot request applications. We sat down at a table in the corner of the otherwise-empty clerk’s office lobby – which has a three person occupancy limit at the moment– and filled out the forms.
Check out the NH Secretary of State’s website for all you need to know about voting in a state of emergency: https://sos.nh.gov/elections/voters/voting-during-covid-19-state-of-emergency/
Because New Hampshire is an excuse-required absentee voting state, we both had to select the reason we needed to vote absentee. I selected the box noting I would be out of town on election day, and my sister, who lives in Gilford, checked the box noting concern about the risks of COVID-19 posed by in-person voting. We checked the boxes requesting a ballot for both the September and November elections.
We returned these applications to the clerk, who handed us our ballots, tucked away in two envelopes. The outer envelope is used for postage, and the inner envelope is used to protect our ballots from being read until election day.
The inner envelope, unlike the ballot application, had not been updated to fit these times. The inner envelop is split vertically into two columns, one which requires you verify that you are out of town and unable to vote in person and another which indicates that either you have a disability which makes voting difficult or that you have a religious observance interfering with your ability to vote in-person. Neither column mentions concerns about COVID-19. I signed the former, which is on the left. My sister, who voted absentee for COVID-19 concerns, was unsure which side to sign, and had to ask the town clerk, who told her to sign the side listing a disability.
We filled in our chosen bubbles on our primary ballots and tucked them in the envelopes. We then silently and simultaneously paused and looked up at each other. We realized that the envelopes legally must be sealed, but felt that taking our masks off, licking a piece of paper, and then handing it to another person felt both inconsiderate and just plain icky.
So, in a stroke of (what I like to think is) innovative genius, I grabbed the bottle of clear hand sanitizer on the table, pumped some into my fingers, and ran them along the glue of the inner envelope to seal it. When that worked, I did the same to the outer envelope. My sister, watching me, shrugged and followed suit.
When we handed the envelopes to the town clerk, we lightheartedly told her about the hand sanitizer. We said that we didn’t know if it would hold but that “we felt weird putting our spit in your hand.” She chuckled and thanked us, saying that it shouldn’t be an issue.
I asked her if the office had received many absentee requests. Above her mask, her eyes went wide and she said, “Oh yeah!” She was appreciative, though that people were trying to vote safely and that so many Gilford residents had thought to start the process early. She stressed how helpful it is when people who vote absentee get it done in advance.
After a final dosage of hand sanitizer, my sister and I left the office. This was not my first time voting in a presidential election or voting absentee, and so it felt like no big deal. Sometime in October, a general election ballot will hopefully arrive in my mailbox at school, which I will promptly fill out and resend.
I really like the little stickers you get that say “I voted” and so I brought a sticky note with me to the office that I had turned into a makeshift sticker. I affixed it to my lapel, snapped a selfie, and went on my merry way.