Mar 14, 2017 9:22 AM
CONCORD – Nearly half of New Hampshire’s communities are postponing town elections scheduled for Tuesday due to the powerful snowstorm forecast to pound the state throughout the day.
It’s the first time in state’s modern history that a large number of towns decided to delay voting, and the moves came as the governor “strongly” recommended that communities hold their elections.
There was plenty of confusion Monday over whether towns had the authority to delay voting. The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office said that regardless of the weather state law dictated that the elections take place.
"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," Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlon told NH1 News Monday morning.
"Our phones have been ringing off the hook about the snowstorm tomorrow and the impact that might have on the town elections,” he added.
With the forecast calling for snow to start falling across the state starting Tuesday morning, and with up to 20 inches forecast in some areas, travel could be treacherous. Throughout Monday there was a growing list of towns that decided to delay their elections, including Derry and Londonderry, two of the state’s largest communities.
After speaking with the state Department of Justice and the Secretary of State’s office, Gov. Chris Sununu said he was "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 on Monday afternoon that “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.”
As of Tuesday morning, nearly 90 of the state’s more than two hundred towns and communities decided to postpone elections. Most towns announced they would reschedule voting for either Thursday, Saturday, or next Tuesday.
One of the towns that opted to stay open was Durham.
Town Administrator Todd Selig said some voters arrived by foot before daybreak wearing fluorescent vests and headlamps. The Durham Police Department also is providing rides to the polls for residents who feel uncomfortable driving in the snow.
For voters not sure of the status of their community's elections, check your town's website for the most up to date information.
Town officials in Durham reported a steady stream of voters on Tuesday morning, as light snow fell in the region.
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