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You’re not imaging it: 2017 & ’18 have been the snowiest N.H. town meeting days on record – by a long shot

  • Henniker's voting booths have drawings made by elementary school students a quarter-century ago. Some voters wait to cast their ballot in a specific booth because it uses a certain with a drawing made by somebody they know. David Brooks—Monistor Staff

  • Webster firefighter Rob Wolinski, center, talks with Dave Collins, Chris Schadler and Sue Roman as voters come out of Webster town hall during the snowstorm during voting on Tuesday, March 13, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER



Monitor staff
Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Voters who struggled to get to the polls through the snow Tuesday after struggling to get to the polls a year earlier were right in thinking this is unusual: In the past 75 years, we’ve never before had a serious snowstorm on town meeting election day.

A hunt through National Weather Service records since 1943 (before that, daily snowfall totals aren’t available) shows that only four town meeting election days in the past 75 years saw a snowfall of more than 5 inches, with the biggest falls – at least twice the previous record – happening in 2017 and 2018. In 60 of those 75 years, in fact, no snow at all fell at Concord’s weather station at the airport on the second Tuesday in March.

No wonder people have been flummoxed, producing the ongoing legal fight over whether elections should be postponed due to weather.

As voters trickled into the polls Tuesday – morning turnout didn’t seem to be much affected, but as the day wore on and conditions worsened, voting numbers declined – the discussion continued.

In Webster, Bruce Johnson, select board chairman, said the storm was affecting people’s ability to vote and that the state should offer more flexibility.

“They had a full year to make a plan. Why are they dragging their feet on this?” Johnson said.

In Boscawen, select board member Mark Varney said he thinks the decision on whether to vote during inclement weather should be left up to the town moderators, not dictated by the New Hampshire secretary of state.

“To set a standard for the state, when we go from the Massachusetts border all the way up to Pittsburg and the weather can be totally different, doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s like a double-edged sword. We want people to get out and vote, but we want people to be safe. We’re putting them at risk by not being able to postpone the elections.”

On the other hand, this is New Hampshire and it is still winter – snow is a part of life.

In Loudon, Mike Drotar was outside the polling place holding a sign by 8 a.m., and planned to be there until polls closed at 7 p.m., wearing heavy boots, a jacket and gloves. He said he doesn’t think towns should postpone elections, no matter the weather.

“If we did reschedule it – two weeks later, we’d get another snowstorm,” he said. “We’re living in New England. What can you do?”

Syd Barnes also shrugged off the snow in Weare, showing up to vote with his 16-year-old daughter, Katie.

“I’m going to vote no matter what, as my duty,” Barnes said.

“I didn’t know how it worked and I was just curious,” said Katie, who had a snow day from school.

Nearby, 91-year-old Joseph Dussault, who in the past had helped plow Logan International Airport in Boston, also cast a ballot.

“I always vote,” he said.

Still, he noted that time is taking a bit of a toll.

“I have driven in snowstorms for years, but it’s getting so it’s not as much fun as it used to be.”

State law says that “in the event (of) a weather emergency ... the moderator may ... postpone and reschedule the deliberative session or voting day of the meeting,” which some maintain gives towns the authority to delay election day. Secretary of State Bill Gardner and the Attorney General’s Office, on the other hand, maintain that “voting day of the meeting” applies only to voting during the business portion of town meeting, not to ballot voting for offices on the second Tuesday of March.

The governor holds that position, too, although he gave reluctant permission last year for 73 towns to move voting because they had made the decision before state officials had publicized their own interpretation of the law. This year, Gardner made his interpretation clear a week early, and no towns reported moving election day Tuesday.

On Tuesday at the polling place in his home town of Newfields, Gov. Chris Sununu reiterated his position that state law requires voting to take place on the second Tuesday in March.

“Constitutionally, the vote does have to happen today for elected officials,” the governor said. “We tried to provide a lot of flexibility last year. This year we just weren’t able to do that.”

Still, after two straight years of town meeting day voting being affected by winter weather, Sununu said he was open to a change.

“Maybe there’s an amendment or a change in the works, and that’s something I would definitely consider,” he said.

The top Democrat in the state House of Representatives said he supports the ability of local officials to reschedule town elections due to weather emergencies.

“Local officials are best equipped to determine the conditions in their communities, and we ought to trust them to make this decision,” House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff said in a statement Monday.

Last weekm the state Senate passed a bill that would give the secretary of state the authority to postpone town elections if the governor has declared a state of emergency or if a town moderator requests a delay. If the secretary of state’s office doesn’t respond to a request within four hours, town officials could make the decision.

Town moderators would retain the authority to reschedule the separate meetings at which voters discuss and vote on budgets and other issues under that bill.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, on Twitter @GraniteGeek, or at dbrooks@cmonitor.com.)

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These are the years, since 1943, in which Concord has seen an inch or more of snowfall on the second Tuesday in March:

Year – snowfall in inches

2018 – ???? still counting

2017 – 15.6

2005 – 6

2001 – 2.3

1997 – 1.1

1984 – 8.4

1982 – 2.2

1972 – 2

1968 – 2.6

1964 – 9

1963 – 1.7

1962 – 1

1961 – 5.3

1960 – 1.3

1950 – 1.8