Equal decision for elections
So, which town or towns made the right call when a nasty storm hit on election day? Milford, Wilton, Mont Vernon and Lyndeborough, which postponed, or Amherst, which let its voting go ahead as planned?
This being New Hampshire, someone is going to be unhappy about something, either the postponement or the go-ahead. It’s our way, and the way of the world. But that’s all right, because if everyone just went along, then nothing would ever be discussed.
And this really has to be discussed.
Initially, it looked as if all towns were going to be in a “you have to hold it” election situation after Secretary of State Bill Gardner said, and we paraphrase, that in this state, we don’t postpone elections because of weather.
And then Gov. Chris Sununu strongly recommended that towns hold their elections, and later said he was surprised when some opted to postpone.
But here’s the dichotomy:
We live in a region of the country where, when we are hit by storms like the one on voting day, we are told to stay off the roads and to only drive if we absolutely have to, and where some government agencies tell all “nonessential” employees to stay home.
So? What’s it to be? Drive and vote? Or stay home because it’s dangerous out there?
In the one town in our area that held to the election schedule, Amherst, it’s certainly possible that some people opted to stay home. One could posit that this would be true especially among older people, and if that were the case, could it skew the voting? Only if we assume older people all think alike. Still …
On the other hand, did the change in voting days in our four other towns keep some people away because they’d already made plans that couldn’t be broken? How can we know?
What we need, though, are guidelines that keep local and state officials in agreement, because in New Hampshire, there is always the chance of a major snowstorm in March. What we had this year was two high-ranking state officials – one of them the highest ranking – pushing for voting on the day it was scheduled, and decision-makers in several towns, including four of the five Cabinet towns, deciding not to take the direction of the governor and the secretary of state.
Some would say that is the cantankerous New Hampshire way, the “keep it local” New Hampshire way, and one could certainly make the argument that local decisions are always best for localities.
But sometimes there is a need for universality, and the question that has to be answered before next March is this: Is March election day one of the times when universality is a must? Or doesn’t it matter?
Universality generally equals some kind of order. In this case, it would be that voting results would get to the secretary of state’s office in an orderly fashion, a predictable fashion because past is prologue.
But when towns decide to postpone, then even the secretary of state’s office has to scramble a bit, and it’s unlikely that made for more orderliness to the process. Less would be our guess.
So, the Legislature needs to address this with much advice from towns and from individuals. Did you not go out in the snow to vote? Let them know. Did you brave the weather because, after all, this is New Hampshire and we don’t postpone because …
And think of it this way: Had a storm of this magnitude hit on Nov. 8, would the federal government have allowed Milford, Lyndeborough, Mont Vernon and Wilton to change their voting days? Suppose the crazy Halloween weather of a few years ago had hit last Nov. 8?
It’s worth pondering.