CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Communities can require that both voters and poll workers wear face coverings on Election Day to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to state officials.
Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and Secretary of State Bill Gardner released a 10-page document Wednesday with guidance for the Sept. 8 primary and Nov. 3 general election. They said they agreed with town moderators that decisions about mask requirements should be made locally given the wide variation in the size of polling places, expected volume of voters and other factors.
Communities that require face coverings for voters must, however, provide alternatives for those who can’t or won’t comply, the officials said.
While the officials said they believe towns likewise have the right to require poll workers to wear masks, they also highlighted the “risk of a legal challenge” and urged local officials to consult their attorneys. They noted that some voters may feel uncomfortable encountering unmasked poll workers, and that it may be hard to attract sufficient workers without a mandate.
The guidance also clarifies issues around absentee voting, which has been temporarily expanded to allow the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for voting absentee. Municipalities can set up dropboxes to collect absentee ballots from those who don’t mail their ballots — both before Election Day and on Election Day — but the boxes must be staffed by election workers.
Towns and cities can not use the “drive-up” voting method that some towns used to adopt their town and school budgets this spring and summer.
As of Wednesday, more than 7,000 people have tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire since the pandemic began earlier this year. Three new deaths were announced, for a total of 427. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire decreased over the past two weeks from 23 new cases per day on Aug. 4 to 22 new cases per day on Aug. 18.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia or death.
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