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Ignoring the law: Local official goes rogue

March 20. 2018 11:07PM

Despite a fairly good-sized nor’easter last week, New Hampshire towns managed to hold their elections and town meetings as scheduled.

Except for Washington. Town Moderator Barbara Gaskell decided the snow was too heavy and postponed Tuesday’s official balloting until Saturday.

Gaskell had absolutely no authority to move the election, and she knew it.

There was confusion last year when a big storm hit on Town Meeting Day. The Legislature had to retroactively endorse voting results in several towns. There was no excuse this year, as the Secretary of State and Attorney General made sure all local officials knew that bad weather did not authorize them to postpone voting.

Gaskell did it anyway, attempting to hold a new round of voting without proper notice to Washington voters.

The Attorney General’s office has stepped in. State officials have told the town to schedule a new election on April 3. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Broadhead writes that Gaskell could have faced a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct for her illegal actions.

The Legislature is working on a bill that would allow local moderators to ask the Secretary of State to reschedule local voting because of bad weather. Putting such a system in place is a good idea.

Local officials like Gaskell cannot simply ignore the law if they disagree with it.

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