BY: Citizens Count
February 2019 update: The House and Senate failed to agree on a system to postpone local elections in 2018. In 2019 legislators are weighing two bills that would give town moderators the power to postpone elections, HB 408 and SB 104. SB 104 would also allow voters concerned about traveling during a storm to vote by absentee ballot.
Another snow storm is on a collision course with town elections in New Hampshire.
Last year a blizzard prompted many towns to postpone their elections. Afterwards, the secretary of state said towns did not have the authority to change election days. This year the secretary of state sent a letter expressly forbidding towns from postponing the town elections on March 13.
Meanwhile a bill in the Senate – SB 438 – would set up a process for towns to postpone elections.
About SB 438
SB 438 gives most of the authority to postpone town elections to the secretary of state. According to the bill, a town moderator may request a postponement from the secretary of state, who will consult with emergency management officials to make a decision. If the secretary of state does not respond within four hours, the town my go ahead and postpone.
Arguments in favor of SB 438
Supporters of SB 438 argue that the bill sets up a fair process that balances public safety and the integrity of elections. Without proper notice, voters may not know when or where to vote, compromising their access to the ballot box.
Election postponement is especially complicated in cooperative school districts, where more than one town uses the same school system. If the moderator from one town decides to postpone an election, how should that effect the elections in the other towns? SB 438 provides a standard process to resolve such conflicts.
Arguments against SB 438
Many town moderators testified against SB 438 because they believe it takes rights away from towns. Town officials are responsible for every aspect of local elections, from printing ballots to tallying results, so why should the state have any say in the process?
Opponents also expressed concern that state involvement would make it difficult to make postponement decisions early enough to get the word out to all voters.
When we asked our community about this issue last year, a strong majority of commenters supported giving towns the power to postpone elections. Click here to read a summary of that discussion.
How do you think towns should deal with bad weather on election days? Share your opinion in the comments below.