CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Keep your fingers crossed for good weather next March — the New Hampshire Legislature has failed to resolve the issue of who has the authority to postpone local elections.
Though state law requires towns to hold annual elections the second Tuesday in March, nearly 80 communities rescheduled their 2017 elections when a storm dumped more than a foot of snow across much of the state. That sparked widespread confusion about who has the authority to reschedule elections. But before lawmakers could agree, another storm hit this year.
The Senate later passed a bill to give the secretary of state the final say, while the House gave authority to town moderators. A committee of conference recommended a slightly modified version of the Senate bill, but the House rejected it Wednesday.
Republican Rep. James Belanger, of Hollis, called the bill a knee-jerk reaction.
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“We’ve been conducting town elections for hundreds of years without an issue until the past two years. I’ve ordered good weather for March elections in 2019 and 2020 so there won’t be a problem in those two years,” he said. “Can’t we wait another year or two and iron this out, and come up with an acceptable compromise?”
The bill would have given the secretary of state the authority to postpone town elections if the governor has declared a state of emergency or if a town moderator requests a delay. Critics argued town officials are in the best position to evaluate whether it is safe to hold elections. Republican Rep. William Marsh, the town moderator in Brookfield, said hurricane-force winds flattened trees in a neighboring town during the 2017 storm, but only locals would have known that.
“Expecting the secretary of state in Concord to be aware of local conditions in every town in New Hampshire is entirely unreasonable,” he said.
Critics also argued the bill would wreak havoc with dozens of other state laws because it defines town “meetings” and town “elections” as two disconnected events.
“The ensuing chaos would be a much bigger problem than a March blizzard,” Marsh said.
Absent new legislation, the attorney general’s office and secretary of state issued memos to towns this year saying no public official is authorized to postpone elections.