Click the link to watch the full interview on NH PBS’s The State We’re In.
The stakes are high in this year’s midterm election, taking place November 8. It will determine who represents New Hampshire in a variety of offices, from Congress to the State House. What should residents know about voting in the upcoming election? Melanie Plenda, host of NH PBS’s The State We’re In, speaks with New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan and Director of the NH. Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees and voting advocate Eva Castillo about voting in the midterm election.
Melanie Plenda: Secretary Scanlon, let’s start with you. How are the preparations for the election across the state going?
David Scanlan: We are ready to have a very smooth election as we speak. The last of the official ballots to be used on the day of the election are being delivered to the city and town clerks. All of the clerks have had absentee ballots now for several weeks, and so those are readily available for voters who are going to be absent from the election or have a disability that will prevent them from showing up at the polls to vote. I would suggest that all voters make a plan to exercise their right to vote. It is a really easy process in New Hampshire. It should not be intimidating. If voters have questions about that process, they should contact their local election officials, their city or town clerk, or certainly call me and we will help the voter out.
Melanie Plenda: Let’s just unpack that a little bit. When you say make a plan, what would be an example of a plan?
David Scanlan: Well, just make sure that you know where your polling place is, and that information is available on the Secretary of State website. It is very easy to find. You can call your city or town clerk and ask them where the polling place is going to be. Make sure that you are aware of the polling hours so that you get to the polls during the time that the polls are open. You can get on the Secretary of State website and take a look at a sample ballot so you can see who is actually running in the election and research the candidates so you know who to vote for. There is information on the Secretary of State website or available through the city or town clerk on how to register to vote if you have not gone through that process yet. To the extent that you can do those things before the election, is going to be a very easy process to actually cast your vote on the day of the election.
Melanie Plenda: Is there same-day registration at the polling place? Or is there a deadline for that?
David Scanlan: There is election day voter registration so if you’re not registered to vote and you waited until the last day, simply go to the polls. There will be a table that is set up with the supervisors of the checklist, and those are the individuals in a town who might be a member of the board of registrars in a city ward who you can fill out your voter registration application with. Once that has been done you’ll be placed on the checklist and then you can proceed to the check-in table, get your ballot, and then vote your choices on the ballot.
Melanie Plenda: What’s new for 2022? Are there any new laws or procedures that people should be aware of?
David Scanlan: There are a few items that are new. The voter may not recognize them because they may not be affected by them, but number one is that for the first time ever in New Hampshire we have provided the state election information in three different languages. That information is available on the website, but if a person does not speak English as their primary language and they prefer to read information in Spanish or French or Mandarin Chinese, that information is now available on the Secretary of State website. We have asked local election officials to make sure that that information is available at the polling place, so that if somebody wants to use that to help inform them, it’s available. Beyond that, the legislature passed the law that requires that ballots that have over votes on them be returned to the voter from the ballot counting machine that might be used in a polling place so that that ballot can be placed in a hand count side bin for hand counting at the end of the night.
Melanie Plenda: Can you explain what an overvote is for folks who might not know?
David Scanlan: An overvote is when a voter votes for more positions in a race on the ballot than can be elected. If there’s an office that might be for State Representative where it says vote for no more than two, if the voter actually fills in three ovals in that race, the ballot counting machine is going to recognize that as an overvote, too many votes on the ballot. That ballot will be returned to the voter to be placed in the side bin so that the election officials at the end of the night can count that entire ballot by hand, recognizing what the intent was of the voter on that ballot and counting the ballot that way.
Melanie Plenda: Eva, since 1982, you’ve been working around voter access. Can you tell me about the changes you’ve seen in the last 40 years, and what’s been accomplished?
Eva Castillo: What I’ve seen, first of all, is the number of new Americans that we have in the city. When I first came there were not so many, so that’s a tremendous growth we’ve had. With growth comes the need for more education and responsibility. I’m excited to see that finally, our Secretary of State – I cannot thank him enough – has decided to make the information available in different languages. I hope that continues to grow. I have personally put the links in the flyers that I give out during the canvassing that we do and the reaching out to the community, so they’re aware and it is very simple language, very easy to understand. The website itself is very easy to navigate.
Melanie Plenda: Can you tell us more about the recent work that you’ve done for this election? How have you been encouraging voters to head to the polls?
Eva Castillo: A lot of people vote for the presidential election and then they forget to vote, or they don’t think it’s so important to vote in the local elections. I talk to them and I let them know that yes, whoever sits at the White House is important, but our state reps and their governor are the ones that really make the laws that affect our daily lives here in New New Hampshire. If anything it is as, if not more important to vote for this in the state elections rather than presidential, or as much as the presidential, I should not say one or the other, they should vote on everything. I keep telling them, like yesterday I made a short video to put in the Welcoming New Hampshire website about why I vote.
I made it in Spanish and I say, I vote as a Latino population increases in the country. Our power has increased and we do have a big say in just who is selected as as our officials. We need to exercise the power and the only way to do that and to have our voices heard is through voting. Voting not only serves to elect people, but it also serves to hold them accountable for the way they have voted or whatever they have done during the periods that they were elected. The only way to really be fully participant in this society is to speak and speak for yourself. I told them in the video, they listen to you. If you do not voice your opinion, then those that speak up are the ones that are going to put their issues on the table. Don’t let others speak for you.
Melanie Plenda: I know Secretary Scanlan touched on this a little bit, but is there additional language assistance at most polling places or accommodation for Spanish speakers?
Eva Castillo: We have for a long time, I go to a specific ward and we do have an informal group of people that we take. We have taken it upon ourselves to man the places where Latino voters are most likely to be. We spend the whole day there and we communicate with one another. If somebody needs transportation, we text each other and we just make sure that everybody that needs to vote makes it to the boss.
Melanie Plenda: If anyone wanted to volunteer to help out with that, how would they go about doing that?
Eva Castillo: They could call me. My phone number is (603) 661-2873. It’s not a Homeland Security secret. You can just Google it and it’s there. I get all kinds of random calls, good and bad.
Melanie Plenda: Do you have any other tips or advice for voters?
Eva Castillo: Voting is the last step for fully becoming a member of this society. People should be really be excited to be part of it. We have fought so hard to become citizens of this nation. Now the last step is to make our voices heard. Friday, I have the chance to go interpret for a person that’s going to be sworn in as a new citizen. Right after the Concord ceremony, I’m planning on bringing him to City Hall in Manchester and helping him register to vote. That’s really exciting for me.
Melanie Plenda: Secretary Scanlon, are there any special accommodations planned for COVID this year?
David Scanlan: No. The provisions that were in place for the 2020 election cycle when we were conducting the election under a full blown pandemic have expired. The election this year will be conducted in the same way that it was conducted in 2018. Now, if a voter has come down with COVID, they should not go to the polling place where it can be spread. That would be reason enough to request an absentee ballot, which can be obtained up until five o’clock on the day of the election. If it’s a last minute thing, there is a statutory provision that could accommodate that person on the day of the election. If an individual has some type of an immune deficiency where in the normal course of their day-to-day life they would not go out in public because they’re concerned about contracting something that could really affect their health, then that also is a reason to request an absentee ballot. The provision that was in place in the last election where just a concern over COVID was enough to request an absentee ballot is no longer in place.
Melanie Plenda: Are there any special accommodations for those with a disability?
David Scanlan: Oh, sure, and those accommodations are growing over time. Every polling place now has accessible voting equipment, which is basically a computer tablet that has the ballot programmed into it, so the voter can make their choices on the ballot and once they’ve completed that, they press a button and a regular ballot will go through a printer, and the printer will print the choices that that voter made on an official ballot so that that voter can then check the choices made. If it’s accurate, they can take that ballot and either put it in the ballot counting device or hand it to the moderator in a hand count town to be placed in the ballot box. In addition to that there is now some online accessible voting equipment for individuals with print disabilities. A person who is blind, for example, can contact the town clerk and ask to have a ballot emailed to them. They can use software to use a home printer to mark the choices on a ballot and once that’s done, the ballot can be printed off by the voter, placed in the affidavit envelope, and then sent back to the town clerk or delivered by the voter or somebody assisting the voter. There are accommodations like that being made and and improved.
Melanie Plenda: Let’s turn to election security and misinformation, and about the security of the state’s elections. What guardrails are in place to ensure the integrity of the election?
David Scanlan: The first thing is that there is a lot of misinformation out there on social media related to elections and information related to elections. The message that we are trying to convey to voters generally is that your state and local election officials are your trusted source of election information. If you question anything that you have heard about the election and how you can exercise your right to vote, you can get on the Secretary of State’s website and see if you can find the information there. You can go to your town clerk’s website or city clerk’s website and see if you can find the appropriate information there. If you can’t, simply pick up the phone and call either your town clerk or the Secretary of State’s office, and we will get you the information that you need that’s accurate and that can help you figure out how to exercise your right to vote on the day of the election.
There are issues related to voting machines and things like that. We have all kinds of safeguards in place: pre-testing of the ballot counting machines, making sure that they’re locked down with the appropriate seals; the clerks keep them secure, they have to maintain logs of where the device has been and who has had access to it and the number of each seal that has been placed on it. Then there’s a process for making sure that the integrity of the ballots themselves are maintained by keeping them in properly sealed boxes with the proper security tape on them, proper signatures on the seals so that we have a solid chain of custody from start to finish.
Melanie Plenda: Two questions on that. Just to reiterate, none of the voting machines in New Hampshire are in any way or can be in any way attached to the internet, is that correct?
David Scanlan: That’s correct. The devices that we use in New Hampshire are the Acuvote OS machine. They’re standalone units that are not connected to the internet or wireless technology. The wireless components in them have been disabled and all of the external ports for plugin devices have been disabled. The only cord that comes out of the machine is the power cord. At the end of the night when the polls close, each machine runs what’s called a long tape, which talks about the number of ballots that went through the machine, the number of votes that were cast for each candidate. At the end of the night, the moderator will make those tapes public and we’ll also add any votes that had to be hand counted, which are added to the machine tapes, and then post those results and announce those results publicly at the polling place. Then the moderator fills out a return of votes form, which has all of the results of the election, each candidate’s number of vote totals, and then those forms are collected by the state police and delivered to the Secretary of State’s office very early the following morning. We will take those exact results that were posted on the night of the election at the polling place and start to compile them so that we can declare the outcome of all of the races for every elective district in the state of New Hampshire.
Melanie Plenda: Let’s talk about one of the problems from the primary. Counts were slowed because people wrote in the names of candidates who are already on the ballot to force a hand count. Why is that problematic, and are you doing anything different because of that for this election?
David Scanlan: First of all, every voter has a right to write in names on a ballot, and we don’t want to do anything to discourage that. What occurred in the in the primary election was that some voters were writing in the names of candidates whose names already appeared on the ballot and voted for them that way, so at least that portion of the ballot had to be hand counted – that simply adds work for the local election officials. In the primary, the cities and towns weren’t prepared for that extra work, so it took longer time into the evening to hand count those ballots. We would ask voters to think twice about doing that because our experience has been that when properly marked, those machines do count the ballots accurately after an election is over.
If a candidate has a question about the results that were reported, the candidate has the right to request a recount. That’s really easy to do. When that happens, every ballot is then hand counted in front of the candidates so that they can actually see the votes and how they’re counted. We’ve asked the towns to be ready for more write-in votes in this election and make sure that they have extra campaign workers on hand to help count those ballots. The other thing that I would say to those voters that want to continue to write in names of candidates who are already in the ballot, by doing that you may actually cause a situation where there may be more mistakes on the ballot because of the fact that the counters are tired and the way ballots are marked and have to be hand counted can be confusing when the actual count is being conducted. It’s easier when people vote the way that the ballot intends, and if the candidate has questions about the results, have those questions answered by asking for a recount after the election.
Melanie Plenda: I just have one more question about ballots. With the absentee ballots, are those counted on election night? How do you handle absentee ballots?
David Scanlan: Every ballot in New Hampshire is counted on the night of the election. Our constitution requires that. Once the process begins when the polls close, the moderator and the local election officials go into ballot counting mode, and they continue that process until they’re finished. We know when the results are reported at the end of the night that those are the results from that election at that polling place.
Melanie Plenda: Absentee ballots, are they fed into the machine that day, or how is that?
David Scanlan: The absentee ballots can be begin being processed two hours after the polls open, provided the moderator has posted the time that he or she plans to start. Otherwise, the law requires the processing of absentee ballots begins at one o’clock. As the absentee ballots are being processed, the names are being crossed off the checklist, and then those ballots are fed through the ballot counting device or placed in the ballot box if it’s a hand count paper town. That’s done throughout the day so the absentee ballots should be mixed in with the official ballots that the election day voters are casting as well.
Melanie Plenda: This question is for both of you. What should people do if they see anything odd or intimidating at the polls during the election? Eva, we’ll start with you.
Eva Castillo: If they see something wrong, they can call the Secretary of State. That’s what I would call, but I can tell you something from working for so many years in the same poll. The New Hampshire elections are fair, they’re clear, they’re transparent, they’re easy to navigate, and I stayed until the very last minute and I had never seen anything wrong. If somebody has a problem, I would call the city clerk, or I would call the Secretary of State directly.
Melanie Plenda: Secretary Scanlon, to you on that same sort of question. It does sound like people can call the Secretary of State’s office, but what is the planning process? Luckily we really haven’t had any issues with that but around the country right now, there are places where they’re seeing some intimidation and they’re seeing some unusual things. Has that gone into your planning at all for this year?
David Scanlan: That’s always a part of our planning process. Not that we expect it, but we certainly want to be prepared for events like that. If a voter sees something unusual in the polling place, or they have experienced something that makes them uncomfortable about the voting process in the first instance, the voter should approach the moderator in the polling place and alert that individual to what is going on. The moderator in most cases should be able to deal with just about any situation but if there are problems beyond that or the voter still has questions and believes that somebody else should know about it, then certainly call the Secretary of State’s office or call the Attorney General’s office and we can deal with situations very rapidly. Both our offices, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General have many people out in the field so that we can respond physically to a polling place within a fairly short period of time. If additional resources are needed, then we certainly can address that.
Melanie Plenda: Finally, here’s another question for both of you. What would you like voters to know before they head to the polls on November 8th? Let’s start with Secretary Scanlan.
David Scanlan: I think probably the hardest part about voting is getting started, making the effort to get registered and then getting your ballot and filling it out for the first time. I would hope that that’s not intimidating to some people, but it might be because you have to go out in public and there’s a process that you have to engage in. What I would like new voters to understand and realize is that the people that are manning the polling place, the local election officials are there to help you with that process, to make it easy, to answer your questions, to feel good about exercising that really important right to vote. Once voters do that for the first time, I think after that, it’s automatic. It’s really easy. If you haven’t exercised your right to vote yet, and you meet the qualifications to be a voter, make a point to do it. I think you’ll be happy that you did. All elections are important and as Eva said, the local ones are particularly important, so exercise that right. That’s your voice in how your government runs, and they shouldn’t be running without you speaking up. So get out and vote.
Eva Castillo: I concur with the secretary’s words. Out of all government agencies, they make it all so hard to navigate and the voting process of all is so easy to navigate. You just get there and do it. I had never seen people giving anybody a hard time. They really make it easy. They help you a lot and make your voices heard and your values counted, and it gives such a great feeling to walk out of there knowing that you did not only your duty, but that you did something for our community and for your life and your family’s lives.
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