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New Hampshire Poll Workers: Rules and Constraints

Guardrails to ensure that New Hampshire poll workers cannot disrupt election processes.

Last Updated: March 18, 2024
Published: October 13, 2022
View the entire Poll Worker Rules and Constraints series

In New Hampshire, poll workers play a vital role in administering elections. Their duties include greeting and checking in voters, directing lines, and handing out ballots. For elections to run smoothly, it is critical that local officials appoint enough qualified individuals to serve as poll workers. It is equally critical, however, that these poll workers serve in an impartial and nondisruptive manner.

In recent years, media reports have identified efforts around the country to recruit individuals who subscribe to falsehoods about elections as poll workers. To be sure, government officials should not prevent poll workers from participating in the electoral process based solely on their political beliefs. State and local officials can, however, take reasonable steps to ensure that poll workers are willing to set aside any personal or partisan beliefs, follow the law, and faithfully carry out their duties.

New Hampshire, like other states, already has many guardrails in place to stop poll workers from disrupting election processes. In advance of the 2024 election cycle, this guide details those guardrails along with further actions that local officials can take to prevent disruptions.

Legal Constraints on Poll Workers

Eligibility

All poll workers must go through the appointment process and satisfy bipartisan representation requirements. In New Hampshire, several types of town election officers footnote1_p2nsiyy 1 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 652:14 (defining election officer to mean any moderator, deputy moderator, assistant moderator, town clerk, deputy town clerk, city clerk, deputy city clerk, ward clerk, selectman, supervisor of the checklist, registrar, or deputy registrar).  oversee elections: moderators footnote2_sz50072 2 N.H. Const. II, art. 32; N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:60.  (the election officer in charge of the polls and voting), supervisors of the checklist footnote3_zgdk7f1 3 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 652:15. (a board of registrars or similar body that registers voters), selectmen footnote4_z7o85ly 4 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 41:8.  (the governing body), and clerks footnote5_k1wmjz2 5 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 41:16.  (who oversee a variety of election administration processes). In cities, city clerks establish uniform practices for polling places and are supported by ward moderators, ward selectmen, ward clerks, and supervisors of the checklist. footnote6_1ceidgh 6 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 48:2, 659:9-a; N.H. Dep’t of State, N.H. Election Procedure Manual 128 (2022–2023), available at https://www.sos.nh.gov/sites/g/files/ehbemt561/files/inline-documents/sonh/epm-2022_2023-ada_0.pdf [hereinafter N.H. Election Procedure Manual]. See also generally N.H. Election Procedure Manual 126–135 (breaking down the responsibilities of election officials by office).  Two types of poll workers support these town and city officers: inspectors of elections and ballot clerks. footnote7_wc5xao2 7 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 658:2, 658:25; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 136–42. Ballot clerks process voters in the check-in line and distribute ballots. footnote8_u5hqtt3 8 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:25; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 137.  Most inspectors of elections serve as ballot clerks (the terms “inspector of elections” and “ballot clerk” are sometimes used interchangeably), but inspectors also may perform different, additional duties at the polling place. footnote9_7fwuu0z 9 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 658:2, 658:25; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 136–42.

Inspectors of elections are appointed for two-year terms from August 1 of the year they are appointed until a successor is appointed. footnote10_iaoxy4z 10 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:4.  Under New Hampshire law, inspectors may be appointed in one of two ways: (1) between May 15 and July 15 of a general election year, each state political committee of the two political parties that received the largest number of votes for governor at the previous general election may appoint two or more footnote11_4iay2xm 11 If the number of voters qualified to vote at a polling place exceeds 2,000, each political party may appoint one additional inspector for every 1,500 qualified voters or fraction thereof in excess of 2,000. N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:2. By April 15 of each general election year, the secretary of state must provide a list to the chair of each state political committee with the number of inspectors of election that should be appointed for each town or city ward. Id. Each party also may appoint equal numbers of additional inspectors as the moderator “considers necessary for the efficient conduct of the election.” Id.  inspectors to serve at each polling place; or (2) if no appointments are made by the parties by July 15, town or ward selectmen make appointments in equal numbers (when possible) from the two political parties. footnote12_5g8ddyc 12 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:2; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 136.  In practice, moderators recruit poll workers with the assistance of clerks. footnote13_o1qefr1 13 N.H. Election Procedure Manual 256.

At the opening of the polls, the moderator designates at least two inspectors — one from each party — to serve as ballot clerks for that election. footnote14_csdn0js 14 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:25; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 137. Moderators may assign other election officers to serve as ballot clerks, including assistant moderators (appointed by the moderator as needed). footnote15_4asi1z8 15 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:7; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 127, 136–37.

Poll workers must meet certain eligibility requirements under New Hampshire law. New Hampshire law provides that election inspectors — including inspectors who serve as ballot clerks — must be registered to vote at the polling place where they serve. footnote16_q16nh1l 16 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:3.  Assistant election officials, whom the moderator may assign to ballot clerk duties, must be at least 17 years old on the date they begin performing their duties. footnote17_an9rn7h 17 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 658:7–7-a.  If an election inspector is on the ballot for an elected position other than that of an election official, state law prohibits them from handling marked ballots, counting votes, and standing within the area designated for ballot counting. footnote18_5jrwhd4 18 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 658:24, 659:58; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 15–16.  If assistants serving as ballot clerks are on the ballot for an elected position other than that of an election official, they are disqualified from serving in any capacity. footnote19_s6itxxh 19 Id.

Poll workers must be willing to follow applicable laws and procedures. Under New Hampshire law, election inspectors and assistants assigned to election duties must take an oath to “bear faith and true allegiance to the United States of America and the state of New Hampshire” and “support the constitution thereof,” as well as faithfully and impartially perform their duties. footnote20_kok71dj 20 N.H. Election Procedure Manual 72 (explaining that the wording of the Oath of Office is set forth in N.H. Const. pt. II, art. 84); N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 658:4, 658:7.

Poll workers must receive training. In New Hampshire, moderators and city clerks are charged with ensuring that poll workers understand their responsibilities and provide training prior to Election Day. footnote21_zn6yeww 21 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:9; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 71, 141, 256.  Town and ward clerks may also assist with or provide training. footnote22_kls6lep 22 N.H. Election Procedure Manual 141, 256. Moderators or clerks may delegate training to other election officials. Id. at 141.  For training purposes, the secretary of state prepares an up-to-date manual on New Hampshire election laws and procedures prior to each state general election, and may also provide webinars and regional training sessions. footnote23_45zpzay 23 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 652:22.

Chain of Command

All poll workers must answer to their designated election officers. As detailed above, moderators (assisted by clerks and selectmen) oversee the polling place and ensure that enough election inspectors and ballot clerks are recruited, appointed, and trained, and that they properly perform their duties on Election Day. footnote24_xtc0sgy 24 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 658:2, 658:5, 658:7, 659:9; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 141; see also, generally id. at 143–88, 233–268.  When towns or city wards choose to create additional polling places, an assistant moderator and assistant clerk carry out the same duties as moderators and clerks at the original polling place and oversee election inspectors and ballot clerks. footnote25_qiiqlep 25 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:14; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 2.  As set forth by the secretary of state’s election procedure manual, poll workers take their oath of office to “ensure the individual understands that he or she is agreeing to fulfill the duties assigned by law to the office/position and that he or she will be subject to the consequences established in the law for knowingly failing to perform those duties.” footnote26_mi8sqr6 26 N.H. Election Procedure Manual 72. And poll workers who violate the oath must be dismissed from their position. footnote27_wtioknc 27 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 92:2.  Accordingly, poll workers must answer to the law and instructions of their designated election officers on Election Day.

Poll workers are tasked with specific duties to create a clear chain of command structure. On Election Day, at least two ballot clerks (one from each political party) work under the moderator’s supervision to check in voters and hand out ballots pursuant to a detailed set of procedures outlined by the secretary of state’s office. footnote28_s8w7bc7 28 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:25; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 409.  In practice, moderators may choose to have two or more shifts of ballot clerks to account for regular breaks and individuals with limited schedules. footnote29_8gtrz99 29 N.H. Election Procedure Manual 127.  If election inspectors do not serve as ballot clerks, the moderator may assign them other duties including assisting voters in marking their ballots, directing the formation of lines at the poll entrance, keeping voting booths clear of electioneering materials, and relieving ballot clerks. footnote30_ayuq0gg 30 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 658:25, 659:20; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 137.  Pursuant to the election procedure manual, best practices dictate that the moderator assign at least one election inspector as a greeter to assist arriving voters and direct them to the correct check-in station. footnote31_lmgjjx1 31 N.H. Election Procedure Manual 127, 161–62.

Following Applicable Laws

New Hampshire poll workers are further constrained by their duty to follow applicable federal, state, and local election laws. Failure to do so may violate their oath of office, warrant removal, and result in criminal liability. footnote32_3yqpggg 32 N.H. Const. pt. II, art. 84; N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 92:2, 658:4, 658:7; 659:37, 659:40, 659:42; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 72.

Poll workers may not intimidate or harass voters. Federal and state law prohibit actual or attempted intimidation, threats, or coercion against a voter for the purpose of interfering with the right to vote. footnote33_q6s2hyf 33 See, e.g., 52 U.S.C. §§ 10101(b), 10307(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); 18 U.S.C. § 594; N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:40.  Violators are subject to significant criminal and civil penalties. footnote34_3mptfbg 34 Id.  New Hampshire law further makes it a felony offense to bribe voters, induce a voter to show how they have marked their ballot, and interfere or attempt to interfere with any voter within the guardrail area of the polling place (separating the voting area from the public area). footnote35_klorsep 35 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 659:37, 659:40.  Examples of prohibited intimidation may include, without limitation, using insulting, offensive, or threatening language or raising one’s voice. footnote36_xr5f722 36 See, e.g., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Federal Law Constraints on Post-Election “Audits” (2021), https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1417796/download (explaining federal voter intimidation laws and explaining that intimidation may be in the form of both physical and nonphysical threats); see also Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown Law, Fact Sheet: Protecting Against Voter Intimidation, https://www.law.georgetown.edu/icap/wp-content/uploads/sites/32/2020/10/Voter-Intimidation-Fact-Sheet.pdf (last visited Mar. 15, 2024).

Poll workers may not disrupt elections through disinformation. New Hampshire’s voter suppression law prohibits any person — including poll workers — from knowingly attempting to prevent or deter another person from voting or registering to vote based on “fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, or spurious grounds or information.” footnote37_sj68161 37 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:40.  This prohibition explicitly includes “[a]ttempting to induce another person to refrain from registering to vote or from voting at the proper place or time by providing information that he or she knows to be false or misleading about the date, time, place, or manner of the election.” footnote38_cnlfzkq 38 Id; see also, e.g., United States v. North Carolina Republican Party, No. 5:92-cv-00161 (E.D.N.C. Feb. 27, 1992) (approving a consent decree in a case in which the United States alleged that defendants violated Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act by sending postcards with false information about voting requirements and a warning that giving false information to an election official is a federal crime to voters in predominantly Black precincts).  Accordingly, spreading false information about who can vote, how and when they can vote, and other aspects of voter eligibility and the voting process may therefore violate the law and warrant removal.

Poll workers may not engage in electioneering. New Hampshire law prohibits poll workers from electioneering within the polling place building. footnote39_04zxfm3 39 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 659:43, 659:44.  Electioneering includes wearing clothing or paraphernalia that displays a candidate’s name, likeness, or logo, a party’s name or logo, or any form of communication that a reasonable person would believe explicitly advocates for or against any candidate, political party, or measure. footnote40_igzzkkc 40 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 659:43, 652:16-h.

Poll workers do not have the discretion to determine who can vote. New Hampshire law does not provide a substantive role for election inspectors or ballot clerks in the challenge process. footnote41_ddzz1ks 41 See generally N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:27; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 279–82. While § 659:27 provides that “election officials” may challenge voters, the secretary of state’s office has explained that the terms “election officials” and “election officers” are interchangeable as a matter of state election law, and the statutory definition of “election officer” does not include election inspectors or ballot clerks. See N.H. Election Procedure Manual 126; N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 652:14.  They have no independent right and no discretion to determine who can vote and which ballots can count, other than following the law and instructions of their moderator, clerk, and supervisors of the checklist. footnote42_706lw5k 42 Id.; see also N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:12 (spelling out the rules for who can vote under state law).  Further, the impartiality requirement within the oath of office underscores that all poll workers must “treat all voters equally and with respect at all times.” footnote43_0236ts1 43 N.H. Election Procedure Manual 126.

Poll workers may not tamper with ballots or electronic ballot counting devices. New Hampshire law prohibits forging or creating false ballots, removing any ballot from outside the guardrail located within the polling place before the close of the polls, and knowingly delaying the delivery of any ballots. footnote44_ur1zgn1 44 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:38.  It also makes it a felony offense to tamper with or injure any electronic ballot counting device so as to cause an incorrect counting of the ballots, or to give a key to any such machine to an unauthorized person. footnote45_erb0hnj 45 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:42.  Further, it is a felony offense to take away, injure, or destroy the ballot box or checklist when in use at an election. footnote46_h6l4axb 46 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:41.

Poll workers must complete certain tasks in two-person teams. To ensure impartiality and fairness, state rules and procedures require that poll workers complete certain tasks in two-person teams. For example, each check-in station at a polling place must be staffed with at least two ballot clerks, one affiliated with each political party (when possible). footnote47_b1cs4w4 47 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:25; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 127.  And after counting ballots at additional polling places, one ballot clerk from each party must watch the assistant moderator place and seal the counted ballots back into the ballot box. footnote48_d42nns1 48 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 659:59; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 101.

Available Enforcement Mechanisms

Screening process. As detailed above, moderators, clerks, selectmen, and state political parties all work together to recruit election inspectors and ensure that enough are appointed. In executing this process, these election officers may choose to develop clear election inspector screening guidelines to ensure that applicants understand their roles and positions within the chain of command and are willing to follow all applicable laws and procedures. Moderators may also choose to develop similar screening plans for appointing ballot clerks on Election Day.

Training content. As noted above, moderators and city clerks (and/or town and ward clerks in some instances) provide training to poll workers before the election. These trainings should remind poll workers about relevant laws and rules, including their duty to answer only to their proper chain of command. They also provide an opportunity to clearly explain the checks in place to prevent voter fraud or manipulation of the election process and offer context to correct rumors and misperceptions.

Removal procedures and filling vacancies. In the event that a poll worker violates their oath of office and must be dismissed, they can and should be immediately removed. footnote49_xwuzc7o 49 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 92:2.  To ensure that enough poll workers are on hand in the event of a removal or other vacancy, New Hampshire law provides that political parties may submit a list of alternates prior to Election Day, and selectmen also may work with the moderator and clerk to put together a replacement pool of inspectors. footnote50_g9qfs7z 50 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 658:5; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 294. If vacancies occur that cannot be filled by the parties or selectmen, a justice of the municipal or district court may step in to appoint inspectors. footnote51_jailp69 51 N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 658:5, 658:6.  And if a last-minute vacancy requires moderators to recruit untrained poll workers, the secretary of state’s office recommends pairing them with experienced poll workers. footnote52_wag7rz8 52 N.H. Election Procedure Manual 299.

Oath of office. The oath of office provides a strong legal basis for preventing and addressing abuses by poll workers. footnote53_0z8u91s 53 N.H. Const. pt. II, art. 84; N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 92:2, 658:4, 658:7; N.H. Election Procedure Manual 72.

End Notes