2020 presented a significant deal of various challenges, but has voting in one of the most important elections of this generation also been a challenge? Given the unique circumstances, registered voters around Durham still found a way to cast their ballot. Lines were socially-distant and voters received their stickers, and election anxiety has begun to set in.
One of the biggest headlines thus far in this election has been the amount of absentee ballots sent out due to many reasons, some of those being travel difficulties and the coronavirus (COVID-19) health concerns for in-person voting.
“[As of October 28] The town of Durham has seen 3,707 absentee ballot requests,” said Todd Selig, Durham Town Administrator, in an email with The New Hampshire. In comparison to the 2016 election, Selig stated that Durham had only received, “842 absentee ballot requests.”
While the amount of absentee ballot requests rising was expected, given the circumstances, the amount of in-person voting in Durham did not meet expectations. Before the election, Selig said, “Given the electoral frenzy surrounding Tuesday’s contest, we easily expect to see over 10,000 votes cast in Durham. In a number of key races, voting in Durham could decide the outcome for New Hampshire.” Selig’s prediction of over 10,000 votes would have amassed the 9,633 votes Durham received in 2016. But, according to the town of Durham website, Durham unofficially calculated for an underestimated 7,896 combined in-person and absentee ballot votes.
There has been speculation that the voting numbers diminished this year because of the different ways University of New Hampshire (UNH) students have been voting. “I did not vote in Durham,” said UNH junior Hartley Curran. “I completed an absentee ballot in Connecticut which I sent in by mail.”
Similar to Curran, many students have changed their methods of voting this year. Due to COVID-19, more UNH students than ever are either commuting or electronically connecting to school from home this fall, which loses a great number of Durham votes. In addition to the lack of students on campus, many of them skip the process of registering the vote in Durham, and request an absentee ballot from their hometown municipality.
Andrew Smith, election specialist, UNH political science professor and director of the UNH Survey Center predicted that there might be less votes in Durham. One reason why is that “there’s not nearly as much campaigning and knocking on doors due to COVID-19.” Even though there has been less in-person influencing and canvassing; the relentless efforts to the public to vote from prominent athletes, celebrities, musicians and many others has been unwavering. Smith said that the efforts, “might make a little difference, but not as impactful as being there in person.”
When predicting how the town of Durham will vote, Smith stated that, “New Hampshire has been trending Democrat, and since the 1992 election there has only been one year in which the Republican candidate won (George Bush, 2000).” But, as there has been growing separation between the two parties in recent years, Smith believes the “Spiral of silence theory,” is a factor in voting. The theory states that a social group or society might isolate or exclude members due to the members’ opinions, stipulating that individuals have a fear of isolation. Ergo, Smith is implicating that there might be large numbers of Democrat or Republican voters that are discreet about who they will fill in as their candidate of choice.
Now, how did Durham vote? According to the unofficial results town website on Wednesday morning, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have a substantial lead with 5,970 votes (76.44%), while Donald Trump and Mike Pence are behind with 1,712 votes (21.92%). As Biden’s lead in New Hampshire remained close (408,354 to Trump’s 349,098), Durham played a key part in his success in the state.