By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said a new law that allows town meeting voting to be postponed two weeks during weather emergencies was being used in about 77 precincts Tuesday as a March Nor’Easter swept through the state with snow, driving wind, and rain.
It took out power in a few polling locations, including Weare, he said but otherwise, it was fairly quiet, Scanlan said with only routine calls to his office about voting issues as of 2 p.m.
The state has 221 towns and 25 unincorporated places along with various school and fire districts that vote annually on the second Tuesday in March.
While some of the surrounding schools were closed for the day, voting went on in Center Harbor but it was quiet there compared to other years and even compared to Monday when there was a rush for absentee ballots.
Charley Hanson, the moderator said there were only 24 who had voted by 1:30 p.m. when a normal town meeting vote that hour would bring out twice that number and almost 200 voters by the end of the normal voting day.
Town Clerk Mary Richardson said that more than 20 came in Monday for absentee ballots, which is allowed under the new law when facing a serious weather event on election day.
Scanlan said this is not the first time that there have been recent issues with the weather and town meeting voting day. He said he could think of at least three cases including one in which former Secretary of State Bill Gardner said there was nothing in law to allow for voting postponement.
Scanlan said the legislature then created RSA 669:1, the law that allows for rescheduling if the National Weather Service issues a weather event warning and “which the moderator reasonably believes may cause the roads to be hazardous or unsafe, or if an accident, fire, natural disaster, or other emergency occurs…”
By law, he said all postponements are for two weeks and that means they will be rescheduled for March 28.
In accordance with RSA 669:1 V, below is a list of towns that have notified the Secretary of State of postponements.
Acworth, Alstead, Alton, Amherst, Andover, Antrim, Barrington, Bedford, Bennington, Bow, Bradford, Brookline, Charlestown, Chester, Chesterfield, Conval School District, Conway Village Fire District, Deerfield, Deering, Durham, Effingham, Farmington, Francestown, Gilford, Gilmanton, Goffstown, Grantham, Greenfield, Greenville, Hancock, Harrisville, Hart’s Location, Hillsborough, Hollis, Hooksett, Hopkinton, Hudson, Jaffrey, Keene School District, Langdon, Lee, Lempster, Lyme, Lyndeborough, Madbury, Marlborough, Marlow, Mason, Milford, Milton, Mont Vernon, Nelson, New Boston, New Ipswich, New London, Newbury, Northwood, Nottingham, Raymond, Rindge, Salisbury, Sharon, South Hampton, Springfield, Sullivan, Sutton, Tamworth, Temple, Wakefield, Walpole, Warner, Washington, Westmoreland, Wilmot, Wilton, Winchester, and Windsor.
Scanlan said in past training for election workers, there has been an emphasis on preparations in the event that the polling place loses power.
“We have strongly suggested there be a backup plan with access to a generator,” Scanlan said. Ballot counting devices have a battery capacity of four hours built in and if the power does not come back on within that time span, the workers can create a ballot box to collect the ballots and then run them through the machine when the power or supplemental power returns to the machines, Scanlan said.