House shoots down bill to give Secretary of State authority over postponement of elections

  • Don MacIsaac campaigns outside the Jaffrey VFW during March voting, despite the ongoing snowstorm.  Staff photo by Nicholas HandY

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/28/2018 4:30:58 PM

The New Hampshire House of Representatives has rejected a modified version of a State Senate bill that would have put the power to postpone elections solely in the hands of the Secretary of State – leaving who has that power an unsettled issue.

State law requires towns to hold local elections on the second Tuesday in March.

However, when a major snow storm hit the state on the second Tuesday in 2017 about 80 town moderators across the state made the decision to postpone town election to a later date. With another storm predicted to hit this March on town meeting day the state issued a memorandum to moderators instructing them that they do not have the authority to move the date even in the case of inclement weather.

This year, both sides of the state legislature took up the issue and put forth bills to settle the matter one way or the other.

A committee made up of both sides of the state legislature recommended a modified version of the Senate bill. This bill said the Secretary of State should be the one to decide whether a town meeting is to be postponed. The bill was rejected by the House 118-225 on Wednesday, May 23.

“I’m pleased that the House voted down the change, though I do think that eventually the legislature needs to resolve the issue,” said Wilton Town Moderator Bill Keefe.

Wilton, along with the majority of the Monadnock Region, postponed town meeting last year, but not again this year at the state’s urging. Keefe, a personal attorney, said state law has nothing in it to prevent moderators from postponing elections due to dangerous conditions. He added he did want to postpone again this year.

“We did get complaints from people,” said Keefe. “And but there for the grace of God, no one got hurt, but it was not a good situation, and I think we dodged a bullet.”

Marc Tieger, who has been the Jaffrey Town Moderator for 28 years, agreed that the “person on the ground” should be the one to determine safety. The issue should be taken up again at the legislature to settle the matter once and for all, he said.

“I think unless the legislature takes it up again and comes up with a decision, it’s going to come up again and again and again,” Tieger said. “We live in New England.”

Despite the snow this year there was still good voter turnout in Jaffrey because of the contentious issues on the ballot, Tieger said. And the town’s Department of Public Works employees worked diligently throughout the day to ensure voters had access to the polls, he said. But even if a large section of voters were not deterred by the decision to go ahead with elections, he still thinks the moderator is in the best position to make that decision, Tieger said.

“The moderator is the person who is there, who can monitor the weather and can realize the safety concerns for the workers and voters,” said Tieger. “And I would not postpone an election light-heartedly. I would confer with the Town Manager, police and Department of Public Works. And to me, I would put more import on that, than I would on what comes out of Concord. ”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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