Snow pushes back voting in most towns

Sununu urges elections despite the storm

Staff file photo by Don Himsel Amanda Rogers casts her ballots Tuesday at Souhegan High School. Rogers said about voting during a blizzard, "I don't care about the weather, it's New Hampshire."

With more than 24 inches of snow expected Tuesday, many communities in southern New Hampshire are taking the unprecedented step of postponing the vote for the annual Town Meeting elections.

As of Monday afternoon, Amherst and New Boston are the only towns in Greater Nashua to keep its voting on Tuesday.

Amherst’s Town Moderator Steve Coughlan decided voting day will remain from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a note to vote before the storm hits. In New Boston, it will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the central school’s gymnasium.

The rest of the towns in the region have all moved their voting off several days.

Brookline postponed its election to Tuesday, March 21. Its Town Meeting is still on for Wednesday, March 15 at 7 p.m. at Captain Samuel Douglass Academy

Hollis and Litchfield also have postponed to March 21, but Hollis Town Meeting remains scheduled for 10 a.m. this Saturday, March 18 at the Hollis Brookline High School auditorium. Wilton has postponed to March 21 as well, but its Thursday, March 16 Town Meeting remains scheduled.

Hudson postponed to this Thursday, with polling hours running from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Hudson Community Center. Lyndeborough is postponed to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 9 Citizens’ Hall Road while Mason will also vote Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Mont Vernon is postponed to Thursday (7 a.m. to 7 p.m.) at the Mont Vernon Village School and Pelham is postponed to Thursday (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) at Pelham High School.

Meanwhile, Milford has postponed to Saturday, March 18 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Milford Middle School on 33 Osgood Road.

Brookline Town Administrator Tad Putney said in anticipation of the storm, he reached out to Secretary of State Bill Gardner last week seeking clarification.

“I was under the impression that elections occur regardless. I was surprised on Friday that in fact Tuesday’s election is just a town election and therefore up to the town moderator,” Putney said.

After talking it over with the town clerk and town moderator, Putney said they “had things ready to go into motion to give our voters as much notice as possible.”

The final decision was announced early Monday morning.

“Having taken part in a conference call with the governor at 2 this afternoon, a suggestion had been made to have absentee ballots available tomorrow. Those will be made available,” Putney said.

Moving the vote because of the weather may cause problems, according to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who weighed in Monday afternoon after speaking to Attorney General Joe Foster and Gardner and local town officials.

Though there is not a clear consensus about moving the vote, Sununu said it would be best to keep in on Tuesday to avoid legal issues, like accusations of voter suppression.

“Given that there are differing opinions, the best we can do is strongly recommend that all towns stay open for voting tomorrow,” Sununu said.

Sununu said town officials are still free to move the vote to a different day, but he recommends that town officials coordinate with officials in neighboring towns, especially in instances where towns share a school district.

“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,” he said.

The Associated Press reports some towns, such as Candia, which moved its elections to Thursday, pointed to a state law that notes in the event of a “weather emergency” on or before a voting day or a deliberative session the town moderator can reschedule up to two hours beforehand.

Cordell Johnston, government affairs counsel for the New Hampshire Municipal Association, said the phone had been “ringing off the hook” with questions from town officials. He said the law clearly states that it’s up to the moderator and that there is “unanimous agreement” among town attorneys.

Sununu said the state has had major snowstorms on election days before.

“It was quite surprising to us that a lot of towns chose to take this path all of a sudden, but they did and we have to be respectful of that,” he said.

David Scanlan, Deputy Secretary of State said state law is clear that the elections must happen tomorrow, despite the weather.

“It’s uncharted territory,” Scanlan said of the elections being postponed.

The law says that Town Meeting elections “shall” take place on the second Tuesday of March. There is no clause in the law to postpone for weather, he said.

Democrats, meanwhile, plan to introduce emergency legislation later this week to ensure that results from postponed elections are enforced.

Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn and House Democratic Leader Steven Shurtleff said the Legislature should step in to eliminate confusion and ensure that towns that postpone their elections can do so. They plan to introduce legislation Wednesday at a meeting of the Senate Rules and Enrolled Bills Committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Don Himsel can be reached at 594-1249, dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DonH. Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-1245 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DF.