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Citing election workers’ COVID-19 fears, Lebanon plans for single polling location in fall

  • A Ward 3 voter completes their ballot at City Hall in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. The ballot included two articles to spend $20 million renovating the city’s school buildings and $9.4 million for an auditorium at Lebanon High School, respectively. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Joseph Ressler

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2020 9:30:51 PM
Modified: 6/18/2020 9:30:41 PM

LEBANON — Lebanon officials are considering whether to temporarily consolidate the city’s three polling places down to one after several volunteers at the polls said they want to stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lebanon is seeking state permission to shutter two polling spots for the Sept. 8 primary and Nov. 8 general election, according to City Manager Shaun Mulholland.

He told the City Council on Wednesday evening that many poll workers, who are often of retirement age and more susceptible to COVID-19, won’t be available for the upcoming votes.

“It’s going to be tough for us to staff three polling places,” he said. “If we could consolidate that down to one, it would be a lot easier.”

Lebanon, which is broken up into three wards, usually holds votes at City Hall, the Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon and Lebanon United Methodist Church.

City Clerk Kristin Kenniston said she’s looking at “very large venues” for a replacement, which could include a hangar at Lebanon Municipal Airport. Residents also will be encouraged to vote by absentee ballot.

“Everyone could come in, there would be more room to get people through and plenty of parking,” she told the City Council. “I really want to have the option of a large venue if possible because then I can put all of my resources in one place.”

Even with just one polling place open, elections will be an “all hands on deck” affair, with many of the city’s staff called in to help check voters in and count ballots, Mulholland said.

Mulholland, who lives in Ward 2, also intends to assist as a poll worker.

Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara said he and Mulholland spoke with Gov. Chris Sununu about the possible poll changes this week. Guidance from the Secretary of State’s Office could come sometime next week, he said.

An email requesting comment from Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan was not returned Thursday.

Lebanon isn’t the only community experiencing a shortage of poll workers, but not all towns and cities are looking to close or reduce polling places.

“Some of the municipalities would like to see the option to add polling places that they don’t normally have so that they’re able to have fewer people in each polling place and social distancing becomes easier,” said Margaret Byrnes, executive director of the New Hampshire Municipal Association.

Hanover is among those communities looking to split up polling places, according to Town Clerk Betsy McClain.

Votes are normally held in Hanover High School gymnasium but it may be difficult to fit the usual 12 check-in stations with social distancing requirements, she said.

“Having two polling places with half the crowd is an idea that we’re considering,” she said, adding that election officials first have to get through the logistics of next month’s Town Meeting, which was delayed from May, before planning for the primary.

Election officials in some nearby cities say they either aren’t yet seeing shortages of poll workers or younger people are stepping in.

Keene, which maintains five polling places, is reaching out to its ballot inspectors to ask whether they are comfortable working the September primary.

“Though we’ve certainly seen a few decline, we’re not particularly concerned,” said Keene City Clerk Patty Little. “We think that we’ll be able to backfill the positions.”

The city, she said, is planning a social media push to bring in new poll workers. Little said she’s also getting calls from residents willing to fill in.

“We don’t think that we’re going to have an issue that’s going to drive us to try to consolidate our polling locations,” she said. “We’re going to stick it out with the five that we have and we’re confident that by the time Election Day rolls around we’ll have enough people.”

Meanwhile, Claremont, which operates three polling places, hasn’t seen its election workers express concern about working the ballot box, said City Clerk Gwen Melcher.

“We have not found that to be a problem as of yet,” she said Thursday. “Right now, our plan is to go forward with our three normal voting locations.”

Byrnes said her group is working with municipalities to request information from state officials about the upcoming primary.

Election officials don’t just have questions about polling locations, but also absentee voting, voter registration and the process of returning to undeclared status, she said.

“There is a level of frustration that time is ticking away and we don’t have clear answers or guidance on these issues,” Byrnes said. “We don’t want to be like other states where we’re unable to accommodate people and keep them safe in the voting process.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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