BELLOWS FALLS — Rockingham Town Clerk Kathleen Neathawk has her hands full — of mail-in ballots for the 2020 General Election, as well as returned ballots marked with “addressee unknown.”
Neathawk needs some help. She wants Rockingham residents who are voting by mail to make sure they put their name and address on the outside envelope that is mailed or dropped off for the clerk’s office.
Too many people aren’t bothering with that important step, she said.
Neathawk’s office has already received about 400 ballots from people who have voted, but many people did not correctly fill in their name and address on the outside envelope, creating a lot more work for Neathawk and the Rockingham Board of Civil Authority, which oversees elections. It does not invalidate their vote, she said, but it does create delay and extra work. There are 3,414 people currently on the Rockingham check list of registered voters.
“It changes daily,” she said, noting people can still register to vote online, or in person. Early voting started Sept. 21.
On Thursday morning, Paul Obuchowski, chairman of the Rockingham BCA, came in to help Neathawk prepare the ballots so names could be checked off the Check List. Neathawk, who lost her full-time assistant in May due to a decision by acting Town Manager Chuck Wise to eliminate several positions in Town Hall, said she is extremely short handed.
Since then, Neathawk has started advertising for a part-time assistant, but she said all the applicants so far are not qualified.
One person from Thailand or Cambodia applied, she said in astonishment. “I guess they thought they could do the work remotely,” she said. The job, she said, can not be done remotely.
A friend of hers came in to help her Wednesday.
Obuchowski, who said he has been on the town’s Board of Civil Authority for more than 40 years, expertly slit open the envelopes that didn’t have names and return addresses printed on the outside envelope, revealing the inside envelope, which is signed, sealed and dated by the voter.
Neathawk said she has to keep an accurate record of who voted. Obuchowski had about 200 envelopes to open, so the voters’ name could be revealed and checked off.
Neathawk and Obuchowski said they won’t start the final opening of the sealed ballots until next week. Those ballots that do have the name and address correctly on the outside envelope already have been deposited into a special ballot box sent by the Secretary of State’s office, but no votes have been tallied yet.
Neathawk picked up the bundle returned by the post office as ‘undeliverable,’ and she glanced at the names. She recognized some people who have moved to Walpole, N.H., and others are former teachers at Vermont Academy who have moved away. Every five years, the Board of Civil Authority meets to comb through the check list and purge the names of people no longer in town, Obuchowski and Neathawk said.
VOTING DURING A PANDEMIC
If August’s primary was any indication, in the era of the coronavirus, the vast majority of Rockingham voters are going to mail their ballots, rather than show up at the polls in person, Obuchowski and Neathawk agreed. In August, 823 people voted by mail, and about 400 people voted in person, either walking in to the Bellows Falls Fire Station, or using the drive-by vote set up outside the fire station.
Obuchowski said the Board of Civil Authority, which is made up of the elected Justices of the Peace, as well as all members of the Rockingham Select Board, had agreed to have the town’s polling place return to the Masonic Temple, where polls will be open on Tuesday, Nov. 3, from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.,
Drive-in voting will be available on Henry Street, to the side of the Moose Lodge, from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., unless there is inclement weather, when the cut-off might be 5 p.m.
Neathawk reminded Rockingham residents that all ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 to be counted. Having a postmark of Nov. 3 is not good enough, she said.
She urged people to vote as soon as possible, if they’re voting either by mail or by dropping off their ballot in person at the Town Hall.
Neathawk said if people haven’t received their ballot yet, they should call her office and request one.
If people still plan on voting in person, they should bring in the mail-in ballot with them, or they will have to fill out an affidavit, swearing they haven’t voted yet. People can request that a Justice of the Peace come and pick up their ballot if they are unable to get to the Town Hall, or don’t want to mail it.
If the past is any indication, Rockingham will be voting overwhelmingly for former Vice President Joseph Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris for the Democratic presidential ticket. In 2016, Rockingham voters cast 1,315 ballots for former Sen. Hillary Clinton, and 576 for Donald Trump. Neathawk said that U.S. Rep. Peter Welch received the most votes of anyone in Rockingham that year, 1,760, and she said about 2,100 people voted that day.
The Rockingham Town Clerk’s office can be reached at 802 463-4336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Susan Smallheer at email@example.com.