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Postponing elections: Clarify who has authority

February 14. 2018 11:50PM

Last year’s snowstorm on Town Meeting Day caused a minor crisis as state and local officials contested who had the right to postpone local elections.

Several towns postponed meetings and official ballot voting despite any clear authority to do so. As Secretary of State Bill Gardner said at the time, “We don’t have snow days in the law for elections.”

Snow in March in not unheard of in these parts. It might rarely be necessary to postpone a local election, both for public safety and to ensure that voters would be able to cast their ballots.

But leaving that authority with local officials would create a dangerous temptation. Would selectmen think a controversial bond issue had a better chance of passing if the vote were delayed, or held as scheduled? What about their own reelection?

The Senate Election Law Committee is unanimously recommending SB 438, a bill to give the secretary of state discretion to postpone local elections in case of extreme weather or other emergency.

This would provide a neutral arbiter to decide if an election must be delayed. Local officials would not be tempted to use a few inches of snow as an excuse to postpone a key vote to a more convenient time.

SB 438 would provide clear lines of authority should we ever get another Election Day blizzard. We urge the Legislature to approve it.

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