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NH House backs local officials on rescheduling of elections

State House Bureau

May 02. 2018 9:42PM
A large sign alerted Atkinson resident that there would be no voting at the Community Center in March 2017 when a snowstorm postponed town meeting, (Union Leader File)

CONCORD — The House and Senate are now at odds over who has the power to reschedule local elections due to bad weather or other adverse conditions.

The House voted 178-158 on Wednesday to support the position of town officials, and pass a version of Senate Bill 438 that is the opposite of what cleared the Senate.

The Senate bill gives the authority for rescheduling elections exclusively to the secretary of state, while the House bill assigns that right to the town moderator.

Barbara Griffin, R-Goffstown, argued for the majority on the House Election Law Committee, which supported the Senate version except for some minor amendments.

“There is no known state that allows one local official to change an official ballot election,” she said. “Most states simply provide that the chief election officer makes the decision, usually the secretary of state.”

Rep. Wayne Moynihan, D-Dummer, said the Senate bill goes in the wrong direction.

“This bill, with the majority amendment, actually strips away the now apparent authority of the local moderator and delivers that power to the office of secretary of state. This is the opposite of the change requested by local government officials,” he said.

The effort to clarify who gets to cancel town voting stems from last year’s blizzard on the second Tuesday in March, the traditional town voting day.

The storm threw municipal elections into chaos, as town moderators decided to postpone elections — Secretary of State Bill Gardner said they could not — and the governor said towns would do so at their own risk.

A nearly year-long effort to settle the question has failed to resolve the rift between Gardner and local election officials. It now remains to be seen if a House and Senate conference committee can reach a compromise.

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