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Garry Rayno's State House Dome -- GOP: Vote early (if you're eligible)

September 30. 2012 1:06AM

Unlike many states, New Hampshire does not have an early-voting law, but you might not know that from a recent mailing and email from the state Republican Party.

Voting for President and other state and federal offices is under way now in many states, so political parties and candidate campaigns are geared up to lock in their known supporters before Election Day, when bad weather and unexpected events could keep voters from the polls.

A way around the early-voting prohibition in New Hampshire is through absentee ballots, and they have been a key component of recent get-out-the-vote efforts by parties, unions and advocacy groups from all points on the political spectrum.

However, you have to have a legal reason for requesting the absentee ballot in order to vote.

According to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan, a person has to be out of town during polling hours, ill or infirm, observing a religious commitment or at work during polling hours.

That was not quite clear in an email sent by the Republican Party last week that stated: 'Avoid the lines at the polls, Vote Absentee.

'We have recently mailed absentee ballot request forms. Please turn in your request as soon as you can to your local Town/City Clerk.

'This is a key component to ensure Victory on November 6.'

Someone at party headquarters caught the problem, and several hours later, another email was sent saying: 'Before filling out the form, please read it carefully, including Section II regarding eligibility to vote absentee in New Hampshire. If you are eligible to vote absentee, please check the appropriate box in Section II indicating the reason that applies to you.'

The party had sent a mailer that contained the state's official form for requesting an absentee ballot along with another page explaining the need to limit President Obama to one term.

'This is not new,' said Scanlan. 'The law says outside groups distributing applications for New Hampshire absentee ballots have to conform to the one in statute.'

While parties and groups have to follow the state form, an individual can put the reasons for a request on a piece of paper and send it to his or her town or city clerk, and that will also serve as an application.

Once a proper application is received, a ballot is mailed to the person, who votes and then returns it to the town or city clerk.

Absentee ballots can be received by mail until 5 p.m. Election Day and are fed into the machines during the day as time allows, so the votes are counted in the final totals.

But you have to have one of four reasons to vote absentee. Military and overseas absentee ballots have already been sent.

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CAN'T WIN FOR TRYING: State liquor Store Number One, which shares the building that houses the New Hampshire Liquor Commission headquarters on Storrs Street in Concord, has recently reopened after undergoing renovations.

To thank Concord area residents for their patience during the renovations, the commission sent a promotional mailer offering discount coupons for purchases at the new store.

The commission, which is the subject of a review by a special House committee looking into a number of issues, put the same mailers in envelopes and sent them to some, if not all, state legislators, telling them, 'We also wanted to share these savings with you.... We invite you to visit as our guest and take some time to walk around the store.'

The coupons are good for specific products, but there is one that offers a $25 discount on purchases of $150 or more.

That runs afoul of a recent Legislative Ethics Committee ruling concerning a similar offer involving ski tickets sent to the House to distribute to its members and staff. By statute, lawmakers cannot accept gifts of $25 from a state agency.

But an ethics committee member contacted about the Liquor Commission distribution said if legislators received coupons because they lived in the Concord area, an exception was permissible, but if they received coupons as a House member, it was not.

That prompted House Speaker William O'Brien to send an email to all House members alerting them to the problem of using the coupons.

'To the extent that you did not receive the coupons as part of the general distribution by the NHLC to Concord area residents, but you received them because you are a legislator, and you use coupons totaling $25 or more in value, that would constitute a violation of RSA 15-B,' O'Brien wrote.

That means there will be no run on the Concord liquor store during Organization Day at the State House this year.

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Garry Rayno may be reached at

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