Donald Rapoza spoke for many outside Bow Memorial School on Tuesday morning.
“New Englanders,” the New Englander said, “are supposed to be ‘hahdee.’ ”
And he’s right. We are, indeed, supposed to be hardy, or hahdee, if you prefer. Pronounce it any way you choose, the definition means the same thing: capable of enduring difficult conditions.
Or, for our purposes here, voting when it snows like crazy outside, like it did on Tuesday.
Bow’s polls were open. So were Northfield’s. But about 10 towns in the Concord area, or nearly 25 percent of them, told voters to come back another day, and people like Rapoza thought this was a bad idea.
“Nothing wrong with staying open,” Rapoza told me. “Drive slow.”
Rapoza is an 83-year-old retired engineer with gray hair, wire-rimmed glasses and lots of inner strength. He fits nicely here, as part of the state’s quiet, rugged landscape. But, like the Old Man of the Mountain 14 years ago, a piece of New Hampshire’s granite toughness toppled a bit when some town moderators took it upon themselves Monday to postpone their local elections.
This ran counter to our tradition, not to mention our reputation. We’re known for hosting the First-in-the-Nation Primary every four years. That’s held in February.
It’s cold in February. It snows in February.
And we make darn sure we vote in the November national elections, and it snows sometimes then, too.
Eric Anderson, who’s been on Bow’s select board for 30 years, saw things this way. He stood in the corner of the school cafeteria wearing a tan suit jacket and name tag, guiding voters to a box that sucked in ballots like a vacuum cleaner on steroids.
“I’m disappointed,” Anderson told me, when asked to comment on postponed elections. “This is New Hampshire. It snows occasionally. When I had the opportunity to run for office, it was colder and there was more snow. Can you imagine canceling a national election in November?”
Anderson then pulled out the heavy artillery, the data showing that voters in Bow were voting. By 10:30 a.m., 716 people had voted, compared to 441 by the same time last year. In 2013, 654 people voted all day.
Outside, Ken and Marge Nesbitt, who have been married for 57 years, kept the New Hampshire Strong theme rolling.
“We both were born and raised in Bow,” Ken Nesbitt told me. “(The weather) is nothing exceptional.”
“It’s winter,” Marge Nesbitt added. “As long as he’s driving, it’s fine.”
Not everyone in Bow believed the show had to go on. Bob Blanchette, a select board candidate, told me, “I would have left it to the towns on the local level. I would have postponed this.”
Matt Poulin, who was running for the budget committee, said, “I would have preferred that they closed. People in upper age brackets are probably not going to venture out.”
And voter Nancy Rheinhardt said, “It should have been postponed. I saw a car off of Page Road, in the trees.”
It’s been a hot issue this week, one that could have melted snow on Interstate 93 like rock salt. Safety was a concern, and town moderators insisted they had the power to re-schedule elections.
But Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper clearly wanted polls open, citing a state statute with fuzzy language that they claimed meant voting had to be held.
And Gov. Chris Sununu also pushed for polls to remain open, although he softened his language and stopped short of a mandate. But his words still had teeth, said Bow Town Moderator Peter Imse. He said a conference call that included Sununu and Gardner made him feel as though results from a postponed election could have faced some sort of challenge later on.
“He boxed us in,” Imse said, referring to Sununu. “We were told we did not have the authority and we could open ourselves to a legal challenge concerning the results. I would have postponed the election.”
Andover did postpone it. The grade school there was empty, save for the head custodian, Vic Stewart. He let us in from the cold and said he was going home soon, to Wilmot, where he said he’d “go in and vote if the polls are open.”
They weren’t. Signs were posted on the double green doors, telling voters the election and meeting had been moved to next week.
Across the street, Don Brady was dressed in pajama bottoms and a coat. He dug his car out, and before a quick drive down the snow-covered road to a nearby convenience store, said, “It’s probably a good idea they didn’t have it. The winners would have gotten two votes and the losers would have gotten one.”
Over in Northfield, longtime Town Moderator Scott McGuffin said he believed the state statute gave him the right to postpone the election.
“I have a lot of respect for Bill Gardner,” McGuffin told me. “But I believe he is incorrect. I believe the town moderator can reschedule during inclement weather.”
By the time Tom Beaulieu entered Northfield’s Pines Community Center to vote, visibility was virtually nonexistent, I-93 was treacherous and the side roads had not been plowed.
Beaulieu didn’t mind. He’s a volunteer firefighter, the best New Hampshire has to offer. He stopped to vote after driving from his job in Concord. The 15-mile trip took him an hour.
The volunteer firefighter sounded very much like the retired engineer.
Remember? The one who was hahdee.
“I think it’s very strange, and I’ve never heard of the election not happening,” Beaulieu told me. “If they said the polls should be open, they should be open.”