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Ballots amid the flurries: Snow delays some elections, but many towns carry on in storm

Selectboard candidate Heidi Aucoin of Henniker tries to stay dry amid a nor'easter during local elections, Tuesday, March 14, 2023.
Josh Rogers
Selectboard candidate Heidi Aucoin of Henniker tries to stay dry amid a nor'easter during local elections, Tuesday, March 14, 2023.

In Henniker, pretty much everyone in town lost power before 9 a.m. Tuesday. But with the help of a generator, voting proceeded – a bit slow, perhaps, but pretty much as normal.

“Usually we have a line at 7 o'clock but today no one showed up until a bit later,” said Town Moderator Cordell Johnston.

Johnson stood by a ballot counting machine that bore a sign that read “Please do NOT insert your ballot if it is WET, hand it to the clerk or moderator.” It was a precaution informed by a past election day with heavy precipitation, when a wet ballot jammed a machine mid-election.

On a day when steady, wet snow and heavy winds disrupted democracy across New Hampshire, some Town Meeting traditions went on as normal Tuesday. While more than 70 towns decided to postpone their local elections, many others carried on according to schedule — even if it called for a bit of weather-related improvisation.

Outside the Henniker polling place, selectboard candidate Heidi Aucoin was working to remain dry. She wore a hooded jacket and sat underneath a tent.

“I ran once for town clerk and tax collector six years ago, and it snowed like this, and we did not have a tent, and it was not pleasant,” Aucoin said, accepting some hand warmers from a potential constituent.

Voter Logan Lambert, meanwhile, preached preparedness as he exited the polls.

“I got the studded tires and all-wheel drive, so nothing was going to keep me from voting,” he said.

In Weare, election officials also faced storm-related challenges. There, voters were forced to cast ballots in a middle school gymnasium without power or lighting other than battery powered lamps.

Moderator Jon Morton explained: The school generator was not working, and though a backup generator was brought in, “for whatever reason, this room is not set up to take the emergency lighting.”

At midday, some election workers held flashlights. Others wore headlamps or worked by lantern, but Morton said the vote counting machines had had power since shortly after the polls opened. Under the circumstances, he said, things were running smoothly.

“We’ve been making it work,” he said

Canterbury was another town that did not postpone its local election Tuesday despite the weather.

Town moderator Jim Miller says the voters showed up too.

“It has been pretty steady, surprisingly, in spite of the snow,” he said. “They're durable New Englanders.”

The town received nearly 100 absentee ballots Monday before the storm arrived Tuesday morning.

Rye was another town that went on with election day as planned. Voter turnout was steady but light through the morning.

Bob Eaton, Rye’s town moderator, said there was a surge in residents voting by absentee ballots the day before to avoid driving in the snow.

“We had a rash of absentee ballot turnouts yesterday, which kept the clerk so busy that we ran out of pre-printed absentee ballots and had to photocopy absentee ballots to be used in their stead,” he said.

Eaton said Rye made the decision to continue with the town election after consulting with police and fire officials, as well as the road agent.

Two new ballot machines also got test runs in local elections Tuesday. Voters in Ashland cast their ballots with a machine made by Clear Ballot; Londonderry voters tested a machine from Dominion.

Brad Cook, the chair of the state Ballot Law Commission, says the group is searching for ballot machines that can phase out the current AccuVote machines, which are aging.

“We are trying to test them out in real life circumstances, which will be very good evidence for us to consider as we evaluate the devices,” Cook said.

The Secretary of State's office will run an audit later this week to verify that the machines accurately counted votes.

Because of heavy snowfall, at least two other towns that were going to run their own pilots of ballot machines Tuesday postponed their elections.

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Olivia joins us from WLVR/Lehigh Valley Public Media, where she covered the Easton area in eastern Pennsylvania. She has also reported for WUWM in Milwaukee and WBEZ in Chicago.
Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.
Jeongyoon joins us from a stint at NPR in Washington, where she was a producer at Weekend Edition. She has also worked as an English teacher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, helped produce podcasts for Hong Kong Stories, and worked as a news assistant at WAMC Northeast Public Radio. She's a graduate of Williams College, where she was editor in chief of the college newspaper.
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