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Mar 13, 2017 10:56 AM

Sununu 'strongly' recommends elections be held despite snowstorm as growing list of towns postpone

CONCORD — With a powerful blizzard forecast to slam into New Hampshire on Tuesday, a growing list of towns are posting voting.

But Gov. Chris Sununu says that communities that delay their local elections do so "at their own risk."

Throughout Monday, more and more towns announced they would delay their voting. Among them were Derry, Londonderry, Hudson, Bedford and Rye. Earlier in the day the New Hampshire Secretary of State's office said state law mandated the voting take place on the second Tuesday in March.

With snow expected to start falling across the state starting Tuesday morning, and with up to 20 inches forecast in some areas, travel could be treacherous.

Sununu said he's "strongly" recommending but not mandating that towns stay open to allow voting. And he emphasized that towns that postpone their elections do so “at their own risk.”

After a phone call with local officials, the governor said “I don’t think we’re in a position to mandate that towns stay open or reverse their direction if they so choose not to, but we do strongly recommend that they do stay open."

"If towns do choose, and make that choice on their own, at their risk, frankly, to make a decision to postpone their voting. We got on the phone and wanted to make them aware of some recommendations that we had, such as ensuring that someone was at least available either at the polling places or town offices with absentee ballots so folks coming in to vote could at least obtain an absentee ballot, if they were not going to be available for the rescheduled voting day," he added.

About 90 minutes after the governor’s comments, the top two Democrats in the State House urged that the legislature must act to eliminate confusion and ensure that any town that needs to postpone their town elections tomorrow due to the impending snowstorm can do so.”

In a statement, state Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn and state House of Representatives Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said “we have a solemn duty to ensure the safety of our citizens and no election should require voters to risk their safety in order to participate. Our election workers and town moderators are well-trained and take the task of facilitating transparent and fair elections seriously. We should trust them to make the best decision for their communities and for the safety of their people.”

The two lawmakers said they’ll attempt to introduce emergency legislation at Wednesday’s Senate Rules Committee to make sure that results from elections postponed due to the snowstorm are “enforceable” so that local officials “can make the right decision for their communities without fear of a legal challenge.”

Earlier on Monday New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlon told NH1 Newsy that "our phones have been ringing off the hook about the snowstorm tomorrow and the impact that might have on the town elections."

"The position from this office is that, RSA669:1, which is in the section of the statute that talks about town elections, says very clearly that town elections shall be held on the second Tuesday in March. From our perspective there is no provision that allows for the actual statutory date of the election officers to be moved and we cannot recall it ever happening for weather or any other reason," Scanlan said.

Among the towns delaying their voting are Bedford, Candia and Hudson, which re-scheduled their elections for Thursday. And Pelham rescheduled it's town meeting for Thursday as well.

Hudson is home to state House of Representatives Speaker Shawn Jasper. Monday morning on Jack Heath's popular talk radio program New Hampshire Today, the Speaker criticized town moderators who were postponing elections due to the pending snowstorm.

Rye delayed it's voting until Saturday.

Derry, Londonderry, Atkinson, Northwood, Newfields, and Hollis announced that they will hold their election one week later, on March 21. Hampstead has pushed their voting back until March 28.

» There are multiple updates to this story. Please click here to get the latest information.

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