To say that 2020 was a busy year for elections is no exaggeration. I will describe it with a few numbers, and then try to go beyond the numbers to describe what an election is like from the inside. Let me also encourage anyone who is concerned about the integrity of our elections to exercise your concerns (and your curiosity) by going to the source: ask an election official. Elections are what we do! Moreover, we encourage you to participate in our democracy: run for office, volunteer as a pollworker, help us count votes when the polls close. Call the Town Hall at 588-2189 to find out when and how to get involved.
As of this writing, there are 1150 registered voters in Bennington: 334 Democrats, 355 Republicans, and 461 “Undeclareds”. However, at the end of Election Day on November 3, we had 1204 voters. Where did all those voters go? The explanation is simple: Because we have Same Day Registration in New Hampshire, some 50 voters who were on our checklist have moved and re-registered in other towns. When voters register using Same Day Registration, their data gets entered into the Statewide checklist by local election officials (we call them Supervisors of the Checklist), and the voters' records are transferred to the town where the voters now reside. We are trained to be very careful to enter data correctly, including birth dates and full middle names, to avoid creating duplicate records.
We are also informed by the "New Hampshire Vital Records Information Network" (NHVRIN) about voters in our town who have died recently.
When there is a busy election year, there is a great deal of activity from Same Day Registration. Particularly in Presidential Primary years, when we have 4 elections, we will see a large number of new registrations. Part of this is young and first time voters, and part of this is infrequent voters who like to participate in presidential elections but don't tend to participate in local elections as much. To clarify this, we can add up all four elections to see how many voter registrations we had in 2020:
From Jan 1 to Dec 31, 2020, we had 185 new registrations, or around 16% of our checklist! Of those, the majority (146) were Same Day registrations, (38) were voters who registered with the Town Clerk or with the Supervisors of the Checklist on other days, and (1) was an absentee registration. Most of those Same Day Registrations came in during the February Presidential Primary and the November General Election.
Another notable statistic was the number of absentee voters in Bennington in 2020. Our Town Election narrowly missed the Governor's stay-at-home order of mid-March; our next two elections took place under the unusual conditions imposed upon us by a virus. Our systems were tested, and we all learned a lot. The Secretary of State formed a Select Committee on Elections to determine how to allocate federal funding designated to help with elections during the pandemic. Meetings were held throughout the month of May via Zoom, which many election officials and citizens throughout the state attended, including this author, and your Town Clerk, Debra Belcher.
What became clear during these meetings was that there are areas of New Hampshire's election system that are antiquated, and could use updating. What was also clear is that election officials throughout the state care deeply about how our elections run. Obviously, not everything could be perfected in the short time frame that we had before the September Primary. But we all put our shoulders to the wheel and put in the time to make sure that our elections ran well and correctly.
In Bennington, the Supervisors held extra sessions at the Town Dump and went door to door to give people the opportunity to register ahead of time and get their absentee ballot applications. Election officials met to plan how to run the elections safely. Prior to the General Election, we all met to pre-process absentee ballots so that we would not be overwhelmed with that task during the actual election day.
We want to thank all of the voters who planned ahead and opted to vote absentee: your thoughtfulness allowed us to reduce the numbers of people at the polls, so that we could keep both poll workers and voters safe. We also thank the vast majority of voters, who willingly came to the polls wearing masks and did not question our requirement that voters wear masks, respectful of common sense and CDC guidelines.
For the September Primary, we had a total of 335 voters: 91 of those, or 27%, were absentee voters. Of those absentee voters, 32% were Republican, and 68% were Democrat. We can assume that those percentages are similar for the General Election. However, since voters don't declare a party in the General, there is no way to determine those percentages exactly. Similar ratios have been observed nationwide: more Democrats voted absentee than Republicans. We had 839 voters in the General Election, of whom 169 were absentee voters, or 20%.
I wish to conclude by touching briefly on the words “voter fraud”, which have been bandied about a lot recently. I spent countless hours working on and talking to people about elections, and specifically, how we could make sure that those elections run smoothly and with integrity. I have been an election official since 1994, but have mainly done my job with a very small focus: the Town of Bennington. What those Zoom meetings taught me is that there are election officials throughout the State of New Hampshire who, regardless of their political beliefs or their party affiliation, care deeply about the integrity of elections and the right of every citizen to have their vote count.
Expand that focus a little farther, and I know that election officials throughout this country were facing similar challenges that we did, and put their shoulders to the wheel, just as we did, to make sure that their local elections ran smoothly and with integrity. If you doubt that, then I suggest that you sit down with someone who is actually doing the work of running elections and ask them some questions. Better yet, get involved: run for office, volunteer for a town committee, help us count votes at the end of a very long day.
We look forward to seeing you in person at the polls in 2022! Until then, stay healthy. Make good use of your time!
Sincerest Thanks to all of our election workers:
Brenda GibbonsMelissa SearlesMike Munhall Thoa TurnerDebra Belcher Karen Belcher John Cronin Bethany Craig Leslie MacGregor Debra Page Barbara Goodwin Robin Davie
And to our many Volunteers!