Should New Hampshire plan for a mail-in election this fall? Gov. Chris Sununu acknowledged it could happen, but he says it’s too soon to make the call.
During Thursday’s COVID-19 news conference, NHJournal asked what metric would be used to determine if New Hampshire would be able to hold a traditional polling place election and, if not, what changes to the election process would Sununu be willing to consider.
Sununu said it would not be up to state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan, or the health department, to “set a specific metric on how we manage our elections.” However, the governor acknowledged that elections could not be held as usual under the current conditions in New Hampshire. The good news, Sununu said, is that time is on their side.
“Our elections are months and months off. We don’t know what the situation is going to be come September and November,” Sununu said. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Attorney General Gordon MacDonald are putting together guidance about how to conduct safe, legal and accessible elections should the coronavirus challenges linger.
As for specifics, Sununu echoed what Gardner told NHJournal earlier in the week: New Hampshire’s absentee ballot system can handle the problem.
“First, we already have the ability for folks to vote absentee if they so choose, based on the COVID epidemic. If you feel more comfortable voting absentee because of nervousness about appearing in person to vote, you can vote absentee. We have a very flexible system.”
Sununu hinted that the guidelines coming from Gardner and MacDonald’s upcoming guidance might include voting from your car. “We might have the potential for drive-up voting where you’d still show your identification as is required. We’ve had models where you can potentially go use an optical scanner all from your car to ensure physical distancing,” Sununu said.
The conversation in New Hampshire is colored by the fiasco in Wisconsin on Tuesday when the Democratic governor and GOP-controlled legislature couldn’t agree on postponing their state’s primary election. Voters poured into the polls during a pandemic, as long lines and fears of contagion ensured.
A new Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Monday and Tuesday found 72 percent of Americans — including 79 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans — want a mail-in ballot option if coronavirus is still a health threat in November.
Democrats, both in New Hampshire and at the national level, have long promoted loosening voter ID requirements and changes to the voting system, such as online voter registration, “no excuse” absentee ballots and voting with no ID required. These proposals would make it possible to register and vote without ever proving your identity or eligibility.
Would Sununu take any of them off the table as part of a coronavirus-plagued election plan?
“It would all be done with the protections that are already in place for voter certification, making sure that that voter is verified on the voter rolls,” Sununu said. Still, Sununu said, public safety must be paramount.
“It’s appropriate from a public health standpoint to ensure the safety of the individual casting their vote,” Sununu said. “There’s a variety of different guidance we can put in to make sure folks feel safe when they walk in [to vote], and if they don’t feel safe going in, they will have the ability to vote by mail.”