LONDONDERRY, N.H. -- By Monday mid-morning, some two dozen volunteers were working in pairs at long tables spaced across the basketball court in a high school gym. In front of each pair sat boxes packed tightly with white envelopes. Stuffed inside those envelopes were the absentee ballots of about 25 percent of the registered electorate in the state’s eighth biggest town.
“What we’re doing today is partially preprocessing absentee ballots that have been received up until midnight last night,” said Jonathan Kipp, Londonderry's town manager, who is overseeing operations here at Londonderry High School.
New Hampshire doesn’t offer early voting in person. But like most states, it has expanded absentee, or mail-in, voting this year in response to concerns about the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. A record 180,000-plus New Hampshire voters have cast absentee ballots, including about 5,000 in Londonderry.
“We’re ahead of schedule,” Kipp said. “We’ve got such great workers here. They’re going really fast. We were prepared to be here until 7 tonight. I’m hoping we’ll be done by maybe one or two o’clock.”
This partial preprocessing consists of opening the outer envelope, announcing the name of the voter so that poll observers can hear, and checking for anything that might cause that ballot to be rejected, such as a missing — or unsigned — inner envelope.
“To be clear, no ballots are counted today,” Kipp said. “Tomorrow on Election Day we will open the inner envelope and actually cast the ballots.”
Preprocessing ballots is not universal across the 50 states. In the crucial battleground states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, it cannot begin until Election Day, which is one of the reasons their results might not be known on election night.
But it is allowed here in New Hampshire. Kipp said it serves two crucial purposes. First, he said, it will speed things up tomorrow when the votes are actually cast. And second, if something is amiss, it allows officials a chance to contact voters and offer them a chance to fix, or “cure,” their ballot before tomorrow, so that their vote can be validated and counted.
“In fact, we’ve already had one come down and cure his vote,” he said. “The process works.”
Kipp said despite the record number of absentee ballots, he still expects a busy day tomorrow at the only polling location in Londonderry. Here, from 6 am until 8 pm, election workers will feed all those absentee ballots into the machines while also managing thousands of in-person voters.
“We are one of the largest [polling locations] in the country, quite frankly. We have over 20,000 registered voters, and this is the only place they go,” he said.
Kipp expects lines at times throughout the day but is confident the operation will run smoothly. And despite what he called a “complex and complicated” election season, he’s looking forward to tomorrow.
“Voting is just such an American thing to do. It’s always exciting to have an election,” he said. “But I’ll be quite honest, I’m also looking forward to having it be over. Ask my wife. She hasn’t seen me for it seems like weeks now.”