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Voter turnout in Durham lower than expected


The New Hampshire general election ran smoothly on Tuesday and had a high turnout of voters, despite the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The votes cast and same-day registrations in Durham, were down from the election in 2016, but the town saw a massive increase in absentee ballots. In 2016, there were 9,633 votes cast in Durham and over 3,000 voters registered to vote that day, but there were only 770 absentee ballots. On Tuesday, there were 7,776 votes cast and 1,322 same-day registrations, but there were 3,734 absentee ballots. The longest wait time to register at the polls was about 30 minutes.  

Durham town officials anticipated that the polls at Oyster River High School were going to hit the 10,000 mark yesterday, but fell short.  

Town Administrator Todd Selig explained why they thought there would be a larger turnout yesterday, saying “We knew 2016 was our biggest election yet. We could see the excitement and the energy around the election at this cycle, so I was just thinking I’ve been here for all these elections and this is the most exciting thing I’ve seen so we are going to beat 2016 but a few things happened. We encouraged people to use absentee ballots as a method of voting.” 

Across the state of New Hampshire, people utilized absentee ballots with 235,834 absentee ballots returned, up from 75,305 in 2016.  

Selig believes that COVID-19 was the reason why there wasn’t as big of a turnout yesterday, but also because there are less students on campus. “My hypothesis is that a lot of people voted by absentee ballot as you can see, but we also have a lot of students telecommuting to participate in classes, and both votes casted and same day registration are both down by about 2,000 people, my bet is that students voted from their parents’ home where they are doing classes from or they voted absentee from where they are from as well,” he said. 

Overall, Selig thought that it was a good day on Tuesday, despite the numbers being down and not being as busy as they had thought.  

It was clear to the workers at the polls by 4:30 p.m. that they were not going to hit the 9,600 mark like they had hoped but at the high point in the day they had a half hour wait for same-day registration. After the first rush they did not see another and the rest of the day was slow and steady.  

The Democrats swept every race on Tuesday in Durham, including the Presidential, Governor, Congress, and both State and U.S. Senator, which Selig said he expected.  

Selig also said he didn’t see students showing up in groups to the polls like in the 2016 election because of the pandemic. “Usually we’d see big groups of 20 or 30 coming down together in a UNH bus and it was just steady and you’d see the kids patting each other on the back and excited and close together and there wasn’t a lot of that. I think that was the students being smart. They were exercising good social distancing practices. It makes it harder to get together with other like-minded people to rally for your candidate.”  

Selig explained the final reason why he believes there were more absentee ballots rather than in person voters, saying “I think people were definitely scared. We’ve had many Durham residents call us to express that they were fearful for their safety at the polls. They were fearful that there might be efforts by some groups to intimate them or that there would be some kind of violence.”  

There were five police officers at the polls yesterday ensuring people’s safety by directing traffic and walking through the building, as well as making sure voters and volunteers were following COVID-19 guidelines.  

Masks were required at the polls, but there was a booth outside for people who did not want to wear one. There were about four people who did not want to wear a mask, but Selig said they were compliant and voted outside.  

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