Voter turnout affected by weather at some polling locations

  • Voters batten down the hatches at the Peterborough Community Center in the midst of a blustery nor’easter. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Voters on a snowy Tuesday in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Voters on a snowy Tuesday in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ben Conan

Published: 3/14/2018 6:24:34 PM


A blustery Nor’easter acted as an obstacle for voters trying to get to the polls in some towns on Tuesday. 

The storm was also the indirect cause of the electronic ballot machine jamming up in Peterborough. Town Moderator Roland Patten said a taxpayer came into the polls covered in snow after braving the storm, got their ballot wet, and then fed it into the wet piece of paper into the machine. The wet ballot caused the machine to clog up for a few hours while people came in-and-out of the polls. 

“It goes through a very thin slot that only a piece of paper is allowed to go through,” Patten said around noon. “We tried using a credit card and we tried using a jackknife and we got one piece out but there is another piece that’s still left in there.”

Patten called out instructions for the remainder of the day, advising voters to place their ballots box in the front of the machine that holds them instead of in a slot at the top.

On Wednesday, Patten said the machine was out of order for about three hours. He said those few hours were “quite stressful.” He said there were people who tossed around the possibility of having to hand count the results, a process he said the town was not prepared to do. 

Thankfully, he said, a man from Keene was able to make it to Peterborough to solve the problem. Patten said the man fished out a “very, very small” piece of paper that was not even the size of an eraser at the tip of a pencil that was causing the problem.

After that, the machine was back up-and-running. 

In Lyndeborough, Town Clerk Trisha Schultz said that turnout this year was low, and she attributed that directly to the weather.

This year, she said, there were a total of 96 voters, 14 of which were absentee ballots and seven of which were from poll workers, meaning only 75 voters came to the polls in the snow. Lyndeborough has 1,265 voters on the checklist.

“Last year, when we postponed because of the Nor’easter, we had 131 voters,” said Schultz. 

Schultz said she spoke to several regular voters on Monday who said they would be eschewing the town tradition because of the weather.

“It made a big difference for people,” said Schultz. “They just weren’t going to come out in that weather. In my opinion, the Secretary of State and Attorney General’s Office should have allowed the moderators to postpone.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Bennington Town Moderator John Cronin said voter turnout in Bennington was “not good.” He said there was a strong showing when polls opened, but that participation petered off as the day drew on.

“It reminds me of the old fishing saying, ‘how was it? It was slow in the morning and it tapered off in the afternoon,’” Cronin said. “So I think that’s true today.”

Bennington had 1,057 people on its checklist this year, according to a town document. The same document says 218 people cast ballots this year, 21 percent of eligible voters.

Cronin said he would have “absolutely” postponed town elections if the state would have allowed it.

“Anything that prevents people from voting and I think that driving in bad weather is something that could, as a moderator, I want to do my best to avoid,” Cronin said.

He said it seems ridiculous to adhere to a law that was put on the books hundreds of years ago when people didn’t have cars and the world was a different place. He said he would like to see Concord utilize some “common sense” to allow some leeway for towns to postpone or extend elections in the event of emergency-like conditions.

But weather seemed to have no impact on voters in Jaffrey and Rindge, as each town had over 30-percent of voters make their way to the polls throughout the day. 

The 1,439 ballots cast in Jaffrey on Tuesday easily beat last year’s total of 541 ballots cast. From 2013 to 2017 the closest voter turnout was in 796 ballots cast in 2015.

 “It was a fantastic turnout,” said Jaffrey resident Don MacIsaac, who campaigned in front of the   Jaffrey VFW for much of the day, asking pe ople to vote no on the Jaffrey-Rindge School District’s apportionment change article. MacIsaac was one of a group of people holding such signs and said he stayed outside from the start of voting to the end, except for a two hour lunch break and a few other breaks to warm up periodically. 

MacIsaac, a former selectmen, said he hopes there will continue to be high turnouts for March elections, so more people can have a say in shaping the town’s future.

“I think the task ahead is to harness this enthusiasm, to come together and take a look at the future of this town,” said MacIsaac.

Jaffrey Town Clerk Kelly Rollins said Wednesday afternoon that in addition to a great turnout – she said things had been steady all throughout the day – the town had 458 absentee ballots, which she thought was much more than normal.

“Everyone seems okay, we haven’t had any complaints yet [about the weather,]” said Rollins.

Rindge also had a high turnout – 1,462 ballots cast, which is 32.7-percent of people registered to vote in town. The number of ballots cast was 411 more than last year and their highest turnout since 2014 when 1,505 ballots were cast. 

Over a dozen people stood outside Rindge Memorial School on Tuesday afternoon, holding signs for various candidates and warrant articles. While the number of people standing outside was less than many other years, it still showed the town’s commitment to local politics. 



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