On March 14, 2017, municipalities in the state of New Hampshire were set to have their annual town elections. However, a powerful nor’easter was approaching New England, bringing with it near blizzard conditions, and many were concerned that the inclement weather would hinder the democratic process. Almost eighty towns decided to postpone their elections despite Governor Chris Sununu (R)’s warning that they would be exposed to potential lawsuits. The issue that arose and, as of November 1, 2017, remains in question is a conflict between state laws governing town elections. Section 669:1 of the state code requires that towns hold their elections on the second Tuesday in March, but Section 40:4 allows town moderators to reschedule the “voting day of a meeting” during weather emergencies.
North Carolina: Hurricane, vote challenges prompt push for changes to North Carolina election rules | WRAL
Events from last fall might wind up being felt for years to come during North Carolina elections. The State Board of Elections has proposed several changes to elections rules following Hurricane Matthew and the contentious gubernatorial election. One proposed change would give the state elections director emergency authority to change election schedules following a natural disaster or a military conflict involving troop deployment.
Another option has been added to the ongoing puzzle about how to cope with town meeting elections that were moved due to the March 14 blizzard: a proposal to allow local elected officials to decide whether the election was legal. The proposal, which describes itself as “the least detrimental of two unfortunate options,” was put forward in an amendment added to House Bill 329, a bill created to study how municipalities do their billing. The plan would ratify all elections for offices held by the roughly 73 communities that postponed town meeting voting due to the snowstorm that hit March 14. It would then give the local governing body, such as the select board or the school board, authority to ratify or not ratify everything else that was done by voters, which includes zoning ordinances and, for SB 2 communities, all other town business, including budgets and bonded warrant articles.
A New Hampshire Senate committee passed the buck Tuesday on whether to ratify the results of town elections postponed by last week’s snowstorm, sidestepping thorny questions about who controls the election calendar and whether the delays helped or hurt turnout. Nearly 80 towns rescheduled their March 14 elections due to the powerful nor’easter that brought blizzard-like conditions and more than a foot snow to much of the state. Though state law requires towns to hold annual elections on the second Tuesday in March, many relied on another law allowing town moderators to move the “voting day of a meeting” in the event of a weather emergency.
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.
There was no calm before the storm, just lots of confusion. Local elections for most New Hampshire towns were scheduled for Tuesday, the day a nor’easter is expected. Many towns decided to postpone them, even though the secretary of state’s office said they couldn’t. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, following a conference call with towns and the attorney general, strongly recommended Monday that the elections be held. “We think that’s a very important part of the process,” he said. “But given those differing opinions I don’t think we’re in a position to mandate that towns stay open.”
A state judge in North Carolina gave residents in counties hit hard by Hurricane Matthew five extra days to register to vote after Democrats sued to get an extension to Friday’s deadline, while a federal judge ordered an extension in one Georgia county. The Democratic Party in North Carolina challenged the state election board’s refusal to extend the cutoff date, saying in its suit that thousands of people would have been deprived of their fundamental right to vote in the Nov. 8 election if Friday’s deadline was not extended by at least five days. The judge ordered an extension to next Wednesday in 36 counties, a lawyer for the state Democratic Party said on Twitter. “This ruling will ensure that those communities who have suffered from the devastating flooding brought on by Hurricane Matthew have the grace period that they need in order to exercise their right to vote and make their voices heard in this critical election,” party officials said.
Georgia: North Carolina: Voter registration in Georgia and North Carolina must be extended, judges rule | The Guardian
Judges in Georgia and North Carolina on Friday ordered state election officials to extend voter registration deadlines in some counties due to disruptions caused by Hurricane Matthew, which forced thousands of people to evacuate and temporarily closed some government offices. The judges’ rulings came after Georgia’s governor and the executive director of North Carolina’s state board of elections declined to extend the deadlines. In North Carolina, where the traditional deadline to register was Friday, a state judge ordered election officials to extend it until next Wednesday in 36 eastern counties affected by extensive flooding from the hurricane that left 24 dead. Matthew killed a total of 41 people in the US, and more than 500 in Haiti. In Georgia, William T Moore Jr, a US district court judge, ruled residents of Chatham County, which includes Savannah, must be allowed to register through next Tuesday a week after the original deadline passed. Powerful winds, heavy rain and flooding from Matthew led to downed trees, building damage and power outages around Chatham County, which has 278,000 residents.
Election officials say they’re ready with backup plans in case a natural disaster — like the recent flooding in Louisiana or another storm like Hurricane Matthew — threatens to keep voters away from the polls on Election Day. “We all may have different kinds of disasters, but you still have to hold elections,’’ said Meg Casper, spokeswoman for the Louisiana secretary of state’s office. “What we have done and what we tell folks is, as long as you’ve got a power source, even if it’s a generator, and a tent, you can hold an election. All of these things are mostly lessons learned from (Hurricane) Katrina.’’ Federal and state election officials said Superstorm Sandy, which struck the Northeast in late October 2012, also schooled them in holding elections following torrential rain, flooding and power outages. One lesson: Have paper ballots ready just in case. “We all have contingency plans,’’ Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said. “We just hope the good Lord doesn’t make us use them.’’ Most election officials also have prepared for potential cyber attacks, said Thomas Hicks, chairman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, which held a public meeting last month on Election Day contingency plans.
Florida: It’s Federal Disaster Relief, Stupid: Could Matthew Affect the Vote in Florida? | Bloomberg
Hillary Clinton is in Miami today to visit a state swept by Hurricane Matthew that is already feeling climate change on a regular basis. Her trip is part of a years-long trend of political leaders devoting more and more attention to weather disasters. “It’s the economy, stupid”—probably the most often-cited political saw of the Clinton administration. Rightly or wrongly, leaders are routinely credited with or punished for economic trends they have little or no control over. Mostly punished. The idea is that voters’ sense of financial security and general well-being drives their decisions at the ballot box. And then there’s the weather. Everybody complains about it, an even older saw goes, but nobody ever does anything about it. In their 2016 book, Democracy for Realists, two political scientists ask why people vote the way they do, and they conclude that the conventional political wisdom doesn’t add up. Their profession, they argue, has focused too much on voters’ issues and positions, overlooking the importance of social and group identity in voting.