The unprecedented delay of last week’s elections in one-third of New Hampshire towns due to a blizzard has put millions of dollars in town spending in limbo, called the integrity of local elections into question, and left some town officials worrying about possible prosecution. All of this was too much for the Senate Election Law Committee to untangle Tuesday. On a 3-2 party line vote, the group declined to send the full Senate a bill that ratified elections scrambled by the weather and instead established a study committee. Facing a legal deadline to make a decision by the end of the day Tuesday, the majority cited an inability to balance the needs of those who voted, those who didn’t vote and those who may want to protest votes until lawmakers can get more information – particularly since at least two towns (Derry and Hampstead) hadn’t even voted at the time. “This is asking us to ratify things that haven’t even happened yet,” said Sen. Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, chairwoman of the committee.
The three Republicans amended the original bill from Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, which would have protected moderators and clerks from legal repercussions and ratified all election results. Woodburn and Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, opposed the amendment, saying more concrete action than a study committee was needed.
The bill will go to the full Senate a week from Thursday and, if passed, will then go to the House of Representatives. Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, who proposed the amendment, said he doubted the study committee would ever be created because this delay will allow legislators more time to figure out how to craft a law balancing various needs.