Nor’Easter? No Excuses – NH Votes Despite Heavy Snow

[Image via nationalreview]

New England’s third nor’easter snowstorm in as many weeks pummeled New Hampshire yesterday, on the same day as voters across the state were supposed to head to the polls. But unlike last year, when bad weather forced many towns to cancel local elections, voting went ahead as scheduled as state officials moved to restrict such cancellations.  The Concord Monitor has more:

As a powerful winter storm slammed into New Hampshire on town meeting day for the second straight year, Gov. Chris Sununu urged caution to voters making their way to the polls.

“Constitutionally, the vote does have to happen today for elected officials,” the governor said.

“We tried to provide a lot of flexibility last year. This year we just weren’t able to do that,” added Sununu, who spoke with the Monitor Tuesday morning after voting at the Newfields town hall.

Last year, around one-third of New Hampshire’s towns postponed the local elections – held annually on the second Tuesday in March – as a powerful nor’easter descended on New Hampshire. The postponements sparked a battle between the secretary of state and many town officials over whether the state or local officials had the power to delay such elections.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner and state Attorney General Gordon MacDonald issued a statement Monday arguing that under current law, town moderators lack the authority to change balloting by postponing elections, even in bad weather.

“The law does not authorize local or state officials to postpone the town elections. For most towns, tomorrow is the town election day and, therefore, cannot be postponed,” Gardner and MacDonald said.

The top Democrat in the state House of Representatives disagreed, saying he supports the ability of local officials to reschedule town elections due to weather emergencies.

“Local officials are best equipped to determine the conditions in their communities, and we ought to trust them to make this decision,” House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said in a statement Monday.

But the governor cautioned that “you don’t want every town going off completely every single year and changing things.”

Last week, the state Senate passed a bill that would give the secretary of state the authority to postpone town elections if the governor has declared a state of emergency or if a town moderator requests a delay. If the secretary of state’s office doesn’t respond to a request within four hours, town officials could make the decision. Town moderators would retain the authority to reschedule the separate meetings at which voters discuss and vote on budgets and other issues.

After two straight years of town meeting day voting being affected by winter weather, Sununu said he was open to a change.

“Maybe there’s an amendment or a change in the works and that’s something I would definitely consider,” he said.

And the governor urged caution for those heading to the polls.

“Obviously it’s going to be a tough day to travel, and we want everybody to give themselves plenty of time to get from point A to B, especially for all those folks who will be visiting town halls and voting,” Sununu said. “We just want everyone to be safe, get out there, participate in their town voting, and make sure they’re home and safe and happy with their families at the end of the day.”

It’s always a tough call when weather affects Election Day; officials must balance inconvenience and safety concerns for voters with the reality that election costs are essentially sunk regardless of the weather and postponement means spending most or all of that money again. I’ll be curious to see if two straight years of heavy snow on town election day prompts policymakers to examine alternatives to traditional polling place voting like early voting or vote by mail. Given how tradition-bound the Granite State tends to be, such efforts are likely to be (if you’ll pardon the pun) a tough sled – but it’s still worth watching. Bundle up, lift with your knees not your back while shoveling – and stay tuned …

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