Yesterday, a brand new piece of legislation was being discussed in the New Hampshire Senate, Senate Bill 248 (SB 248), AN ACT ratifying elections and meetings postponed due to a weather emergency on March 14, 2017. This legislation is trying to legalize the cities and towns who illegally moved their election days against the advice of the Secretary of State, Governor and Speaker of the House. Essentially this bill is changing the law just for those cities and towns after they broke it.
There seemed to be a lot of confusion from towns across New Hampshire whose town moderators didn’t understand the state laws regarding town elections. Indeed, towns are able to change deliberative session days or town meeting days but they cannot change the actual election day, that day is set by state law. These towns who were confused got advice from Bill Gardner, Secretary of State, Chris Sununu, the Governor and Shawn Jasper, Speaker of the House that they have to hold their elections and cannot move the date.
Unfortunately some chose not to listen to the people tasked with upholding election laws and chose to follow the very, very bad advice of an advocacy/lobbying organization instead – The New Hampshire Municipal Association (NHMA). In an email from NHMA Legal Counsel, Stephen Buckley, he lays out the false reasoning why he believes cities and towns in New Hampshire can move their elections.
Can a moderator postpone either the balloting session or the deliberative session, or both, of the town meeting?
Yes, the moderator can postpone either-the balloting session or the deliberative session of town meeting under the authority provided by RSA 40:4, II. That statute clearly says that the moderator may postpone and reschedule-the deliberative sessions or voting day to another reasonable date, place and time 1n the event the moderator reasonably believes the roads are hazardous and unsafe due to a weather emergency. Provided, however, the moderator must make that determination to postpone and reschedule at least 2 hours prior to the scheduled session.
Since the statute says the moderator can postpone and reschedule the deliberative session or voting day that means that she can postpone both the official ballot session for the election of town officers and voting on other matters by official ballot, as well as the business meeting (a/k/a deliberative session). Therefore, as determined by the moderator,-and not dependent on the actions of other election officials, either or both the deliberative session and the voting day can be postponed and rescheduled if the moderator reasonably believes the roads are hazardous and unsafe due to a weather emergency.
This is contrary to what the Secretary of State, Governor and Speaker of the House told town moderators and officials before town election day. From Associated Press:
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu says he “strongly recommends” towns still hold elections Tuesday, despite an impending snowstorm.
Sununu tells reporters the state won’t mandate towns to hold elections because there is differing opinion on the laws related to local elections. He and Attorney General Joe Foster had a conference call with town officials Monday to discuss options.
He says towns are postponing elections “at their risk,” suggesting they could be open to lawsuits for voter suppression.
Some towns rescheduled elections because of the forecast. But Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan on Monday told WMUR-TV that state laws say the elections have to take place, “regardless of the weather.”
Not only did Bill Gardner tell towns they had to hold elections but he is absolutely against the new legislation proposed by Democrats trying to provide “blanket immunity” for towns that violated the law. From Union Leader:
Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who advised communities to hold their elections on the designated Election Day, said he opposes any blanket immunity for those who decided to do otherwise.
Gardner says the question of rescheduling town or school district meetings merits further study, but that ballot voting must take place on the same day in every precinct.
“I think it would be a good idea to study it,” he said regarding town meetings. “But voting day should be locked in, period. You don’t fool around with elections. If you can have it tomorrow like some are, or Friday like some are, or next Tuesday. If you can have it any day, you can have it a month from now.”
Gardner was very clear from the beginning that towns had to hold elections on Tuesday. It’s written in the laws that they must be held the second Tuesday in March. There is nothing confusing or unclear about that. It seems the NHMA believes their “opinion” is more valid and important than the man who is responsible for upholding election laws for the entire state of New Hampshire.
The NHMA has royally screwed up town elections in the state. And now Democrats are admitting towns broke the law by attempting to push legislation, after the fact, that grants cities and towns that chose to break the law on bad advice from the NHMA, immunity from their actions.
Did the NHMA intentionally work to destroy the integrity of town elections in the state or are they really just that ignorant of the laws? Either way, they should be held accountable for the damage they have done. This isn’t just about changing dates of the elections; there are more far reaching ramifications as well thanks to their very, very bad advice.
The email from the NHMA can be read in full below:NHMA legal advice on cancelleation