Delayed election met with protest in Effingham

  • A group of Effingham residents led by Leanne Leonard (foreground) hold signs up to the town office window where selectmen were hosting a Zoom meeting Wednesday. The group opposes selectmen’s decision to postpone town elections to May. Daymond Steer / Conway Daily Sun

Conway Daily Sun
Published: 2/19/2021 5:24:40 PM

About a dozen residents Wednesday protested selectmen’s decision to delay town meeting and election to May. The rest of the Governor Wentworth Regional School District’s towns – Brookfield, New Durham, Ossipee, Tuftonboro and Wolfeboro – are voting in March, as in past years.

The protesters, led by Leanne Leonard, a mother of three children in the school district, stood outside the town offices starting at 5 p.m. while Selectmen Michael Cahalane (chair), Chuck Fuller and Tom Hart met to host a Zoom public hearing to explain their decision.

Some of the protesters held signs while others sat in their cars to keep warm. At one point, the group walked behind the town office to make sure selectmen could see their signs.

The notice of the Zoom meeting said it was to “inform the voters that per Emergency Order No. 83, the Town Election and Town Meeting have been moved to Tuesday, May 11, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, May 15 at 9 a.m. There will be no further opportunity to amend.”

Gov. Chris Sununu issued Order No. 83 last month, allowing towns to push back town voting and meetings to as late as July due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Leonard believes selectmen should have consulted voters before making that decision.

“A public hearing, according to the Attorney General’s Office, is for public input,” said Leonard. “However, they are not allowing us any input so we are standing out here for our rights to vote in March.”

Protester Dick Thompson told the Sun he was there with his “lady friend” Donna Frye. “I just want to make sure we are recognized,” said Thompson.

After about 20 minutes, the selectmen came out of the building and Cahalane spoke to the Sun. He said the intention of the Zoom meeting was to be informational.

“The only regret we have is usually you have public input on hearings but this one the decision is quite frankly made and it’s just informative,” he said.

Cahalane said the town meeting and voting will take place at Effingham Elementary School. He said it’s his understanding Effingham’s votes will be added to the tallies of the other towns in the Governor Wentworth School District. The results released immediately after the vote. He said Effingham has about 300 voters during elections.

“Everybody’s votes are going to count,” said Cahalane. “The school is going to function.”

The protesters told the Sun they prefer to vote in March and cite complications with the school district as examples of why they feel that way.

Protester Linda Edwards said Effingham is the only town in the Governor Wentworth School District that is delaying its vote.

Leonard shared with the Sun a Feb. 4 memo from Governor Wentworth Chairman John Widmer and Superintendent Kathleen Cuddy-Egbert. The memo requesting that Effingham keep its traditional March voting date for such reasons as a delay will result in having to extend the terms of the current members until votes can be counted for all candidates and because the citizens of Effingham may feel disenfranchised if all the other towns have their ballots counted and recorded in March.

Effingham School Board member Jim Pittman told the Sun that school board member Julianne Cardinal of New Durham is not running for re-election.

Cahalane said the decision was made after a series of four meetings with school board members and moderators.

“There is no real news,” said Cahalane. “There is still going to be an election, the votes will count and the outcomes will be posted.”

Other towns such as Madison, Jackson and Bartlett delayed their vote until spring by a vote of selectmen without seeking extra input from town residents.

Asked if the Effingham board ever solicited the public for input, Cahalane said “not really” because it was the selectmen’s decision. He said residents know how to contact him and the other selectmen and they get a lot of informal input. He said on subjects like this, the input they get is a “mixed bag.”

He said Effingham has many vulnerable residents and many people won’t be vaccinated until May.

“Quite frankly, this is about the health and safety of the residents in the town,” said Cahalane who added that selectmen are considering holding town meeting outside or in the school gym if the weather is bad. “Nothing is really going to change by moving these dates.”

Cahalane is facing a challenge in May from candidate Leonard Espie.

“There is no reason we can’t vote in March,” said Espie. “We did it in September and we did it in November. We got by fine.”

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