University of New Hampshire (UNH) students return to classes on Monday, just a week before New Hampshire’s Republican and Democratic State primaries on Tuesday, September 8. With the coronavirus (COVID-19) at hand,  Durham’s town administration prefers that students take more time in advance when preparing to vote this fall.  

The town of Durham administration is encouraging students to register ahead of time and vote absentee to ensure everyone’s safety with the upcoming elections taking place in the midst of COVID-19.   

Registration to vote takes place at the Durham Town Clerk’s office, which is open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 4:30 PM. The last day to register for the NH State Primary is Monday, August 31st and October 25th for the general election. Those who wish to register must bring proof of identity, residency, age and citizenship. 

Town Administrator Todd Selig said the town’s goal is to run a safe and healthy election, and one of the ways to do so is overtly encouraging students in particular to register in advance to vote or vote absentee. He said there’s been a “tremendous uptick” in pro-absentee voters in Durham- so far, and it is evident in the amount of people calling and emailing the town with suggestions on improving the voting process.  

Having an election during a pandemic is a unique challenge, Selig said, and on a day where Durham may process anywhere from 9,000 to 12,000 voters, there is much to be considered about making the voting process as safe as possible for everyone involved. 

Selig said that a typical presidential election in Durham could mean registering as many as 4,500 people on the day. This number wouldn’t usually be an issue, but Selig said that students taking the time to register in advance and not registering the day of voting would “make it easier for everybody,” especially during the pandemic. Lorrie Pitt, the Town Clerk, said the emphasis on registering early and voting absentee is to ensure there is the least amount of people grouped at the polls on Election Day. 

Ann Shump, Durham’s Supervisor of the Checklist said that the pandemic has left the town with less volunteers to register people at the polls. Typically a single volunteer could register two people at a time, Shump said, but with the necessity of social distancing, that process would be half as fast. 

Shump has been working with the UNH and the Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students Kenneth Holmes to figure out what the town and the university are willing to do in terms of events. She said there is still a gray area due to the pandemic. However, as a part of the Wildcat Days scavenger hunt, freshmen will have the opportunity to visit Durham’s town hall and register to vote this Friday from 1 to 4 PM.  

 Shump said for the upcoming primary, there have been over 1,700 requests for absentee ballots in Durham and over 800 of them returned. This is a massive increase in the numbers from two years ago, where there were 150 absentee ballots total in Durham. It is important to note that New Hampshire primaries are semi-closed, meaning you must vote according to the party you are registered to and if you are registered Independent, you will still have the option to choose a ballot. 

College students in New Hampshire have the option to vote within their hometown or the town that their school is located in. In order to register in Durham, students can present proof of residency within Durham. These documents could be from UNH proving a student lives in campus housing, a rental agreement or lease that proves residence at the time of the election, or a screen shot from a student’s Webcat account that shows a student’s dorm assignment or off-campus residence address on a smartphone. The New Hampshire Secretary of State provides more details on their website for students registering Durham as their domicile.  

A primary is a pre-election process meant for voters to select their preferred candidates for the following general election. The general election takes place on November 3. 

For the U.S. Senate seat, Democratic candidates include: Jeanne Shaheen, current New Hampshire Senator who has served since 2009, Tom Alciere, former Libertarian candidate who ran for New Hampshire’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018, and Paul Krautmann, a US army veteran who served from 1972 to 2005. Republican candidates for senate include Gerard Beloin, Don Bolduc, Andy Martin, a former candidate for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S House, and Corky Messner. 

Democratic candidates for governor include Andru Volinsky, a member of the New Hampshire Executive Council and New Hampshire State Sen. Dan Feltes, who represents District 15. Republican candidates for governor include incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu and Karen Testerman, a former U.S. Senate candidate in New Hampshire.  

Durham is in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, which is currently represented by Rep. Chris Pappas, the only Democratic candidate as of now. Republican challengers include Matt Mowers, Kevin Rondeau, Michael Kallis, Jeff Denaro, and Matt Mayberry. 

The full sample Republican and Democratic ballots from Durham can be found here.