New Hampshire’s oldest form of town government, the town meeting, has been relatively consistent and unchanged through the generations as to when this annual event is held. RSA 39:1 requires town meeting to be held annually on the second Tuesday of March, or in accordance with RSA 40:13 (providing an optional form of town meeting as official ballot referenda) if that provision is adopted by the Town. The vast majority of New Hampshire municipalities abide by the “second Tuesday of March” rule in holding town meeting.
However, as New Hampshire residents know, March can be a tempestuous weather month for the Granite State. Past years have proven that weather can severely hinder the ability of otherwise entitled residents to participate in town meeting and related voting matters.
The New Hampshire legislature recognized this possibility in the 2019 legislative year, and in January 2019 introduced SB 104, a measure providing for the postponement of municipal elections in the event of winter storm warning, blizzard warning, or ice storm warning. After several months of legislative discussion and amendment, SB 104 was approved by both the State Senate and House of Representatives, and signed into law by Governor Sununu as an amendment to RSA 40:4, to become effective in July 2019.
The new version of RSA 40:4 grants moderators of municipal town meetings the power to postpone the “date of a deliberative session or business session of a town meeting” up to two (2) hours but not more than forty-eight (48) hours when the National Weather Service issues a “weather event warning applicable to the town on the date” of those session and the “moderator reasonably believes may cause the roads to be hazardous or unsafe” or if “an accident, natural disaster, or other emergency occurs which the moderator reasonably believes may render use of the meeting location unsafe.” RSA 40-4:II(a).
This new amendment hopes to ensure safety and increased participation among voters in town meeting and corresponding votes. This change will be in effect for the 2020 town meetings coming up in March, so be on the lookout for notice from your local moderator—particularly if inclement weather strikes—before heading out to vote.