State: Votes must happen Tuesday despite weather

  • Paul St. Cyr of Francestown sands down slick steps for voters who braved a snowstorm last year to head to the polls. Francestown was one of the few towns in the state that held voting on the traditional second Tuesday in March last year, while many others canceled due to weather conditions.  FILE PHOTO

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, March 13, 2018

For the second year in a row, a Nor’easter is bearing down on the state, set to hit on polling day. 

Last year, an overwhelming number of local towns – 77 across the state – decided to err on the side of caution and move their voting day rather than have voters try to slog through a foot of snow that was dumped on the region. This year, Secretary of State William Gardner and State Attorney General Gordon MacDonald have issued a joint memo to town moderators across the state, informing moderators they have the power to delay Town Meeting, but not ballot voting, due to weather emergencies.

“For most towns, tomorrow is the town election day and, therefore, cannot be postponed,” said a press release issued jointly by Gardner and MacDonald on Monday.

Several towns, which last year moved their elections due to a storm, said this year they would be holding them on Tuesday as usual. But they were unhappy about the dictate.

“At this time, due to the inaction of the legislature, we have no choice,” said New Ipswich Moderator Bob Romeril in an interview Monday. “At this time, the plan is to go ahead. It’s really too bad.”

Romeril said that if given the choice, he likely would have postponed the polling.

“I think that all of the feedback we have from people we’ve run into today is that they don’t want to be out tomorrow,” said Romeril.

Lyndeborough Moderator Walter Holland said that town officials, including the police chief, a member of the Select Board, road agent and town clerk met on Monday to discuss the issue, but in light of the memorandum from the state, felt they had no choice but to move forward with the original voting date. But Holland said he anticipated problems getting the usual volunteers to count the ballots after the polls closed.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Holland. “If the secretary of state, in their infinite wisdom, thinks they can run the local elections, why don’t they send ballot counters at the end of the day? Because ours can’t do it. Many of them are elderly, and they don’t want to have to drive at night in a raging snowstorm.”

Lyndeborough’s neighbor and school district partner, Wilton, also will be holding elections on Tuesday, though reluctantly.

“At this point, I’m planning to go ahead,” said Wilton Moderator Bill Keefe on Monday morning. “I think it’s a poor idea. I think it will disenfranchise a lot of voters who can’t get to the polls, and I think it’s dangerous to our workers.”

Keefe disagreed with the stance of the Attorney General and Secretary of State that the law does not contain a provision that authorizes public officials to postpone an election. Last year, under similar circumstances, he and other moderators across the state studied that statute before coming to the conclusion that there was nothing barring them from moving elections, either.

“This has always been in the hands of local moderators, and this is a power grab by officials in Concord,” said Keefe.

Greenfield is another town that moved its elections last year, but will be holding them on the regular day this year, said Greenfield Moderator Gil Bliss. But he agreed with Keefe that, given his preference, it would be moved.

“Nobody’s happy about it at all,” said Bliss, who said he had discussed the issue with other moderators who also planned to obey the state’s mandate.

He said that while the state argued that moving the polling times might disenfranchise voters, many more would be put off by the weather.

“I’ve heard from lots of people, that say things along the lines of, ‘My mother’s elderly, and she’ll drive in good weather, but not at night or in the snow.’ Those people are being disenfranchised.”

Bliss said there were concerns over towns voting on different days, such as votes in one town influencing another in shared school districts.

Another potential issue with moving voting days, said Romeril, is that the window for a potential recount call is, legislatively, “Friday,” rather than a certain number of business days following the election. Last year, New Ipswich held its vote on Thursday, which left only a day for candidates to request a recount. Other towns, such as Sharon, held their elections on Friday.

“Those are legitimate concerns, but all with manageable ways to address them,” said Bliss.

Last year, several shared school districts in the Monadnock region ended up having member towns voting on different days. While results of voting were reported to the district as they came in, the results were not released until the  entire district had voted.

In light of last year’s chaotic process, with questions about who, if anyone, holds the right to move polling days, the state legislature has taken up the issue, but a definitive solution has yet to make its way to the Governor’s office.

Just last week, the State Senate passed SB 438, an attempt to address the issue. The bill has yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives.

The bill would allow the secretary of state’s office to grant the authority to postpone polling dates in the case of “imminent serious threat to public safety” either during a declared state of emergency or by direct request of a town’s moderator. The secretary of state would have the final say, but if they were unable to reply to states within a four-hour window, the moderator would have the power to make the decision. 


Ashley Saari can be reache d at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.