Like all states, New Hampshire permits voters who are unable or unwilling to attend official polling stations the option of casting absentee ballots in state and federal elections. Absentee ballots are regulated by several statutes, and ultimately overseen by the New Hampshire Secretary of State.
One recent case challenged the process on how absentee ballots are processed, specifically examining the “signature-match” requirement articulated under RSA 659:50, III. This provision requires every local election moderator to compare the signature on a voter’s absentee ballot application with the signature on the absentee ballot. Where there is inconsistency between the signatures, the moderator must reject the voter’s ballot. There is no procedure articulated by statute that provides for an appeal of the moderator’s decision, and voters only find out whether their absentee ballot was rejected via the absentee voter website. RSA 657:26.
In the case of Mary Saucedo, et al. v. William Gardner, et al., three plaintiffs brought suit in federal district court against Secretary of State Gardner when they discovered that their absentee ballots cast for the 2016 General Election were rejected on the basis of the signature-match requirement. In a 49-page order dated August 14, 2018, District Judge Landya McCafferty found the signature-matching process “fundamentally flawed” as it gives voters “no right to participate in the process,” “moderators receive no training in handwriting analysis or signature comparison,” and there is no “regulation or guidance from the State provid[ing] functional standards to distinguish the natural variations” of signatures. Ultimately, Judge McCafferty held the signature-match requirement articulated under RSA 659:50, III “is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States,” and ordered the Secretary of State permanently enjoined from enforcing the provision.
While the votes of the three plaintiffs, together with 272 other absentee voters, were barred from participating in the 2016 election as a result of RSA 659:50, III, New Hampshire absentee voters in the 2018 election need not fear the signature-match requirement.