Gov. Chris Sununu announced Friday that Town Meeting deliberative sessions, traditional Town Meetings and official ballot voting days for Town Meetings this year can be postponed upon the decision of local officials due to COVID-19 concerns. Voting procedures may also be modified for safety purposes after consultation with town moderators, the attorney general’s office and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Sununu announced the changes through executive order Friday, essentially extending a change that had first been introduced in last year’s Town Meeting season, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic when concerns about mass indoor gathering first arose.
The changes also track with legislation now moving through the State House. That bipartisan bill allows for the postponement of elections; it unanimously passed the state Senate earlier this month and is expected to pass the House as well, but with an uncertain timeline.
Under state law, towns must meet a series of deadlines regarding items such as the submission of annual budgets and voter checklists as well as set dates for deliberative sessions and voting days depending on the style of Town Meeting followed by the town.
Sununu’s emergency order on allowing the postponement of Town Meeting activities also permits local officials to pre-process absentee ballots, as a way of getting a head start on the counting of those ballots once polls close, in an election season when many voters are likely to again cast ballots absentee.
America Votes, a liberal advocacy group that lobbies on election issues in New Hampshire, praised Sununu’s order.
“Today is a victory for local election administrators and Granite Staters,” the group said in a statement. “Democracy works better when everyone can safely participate, and by allowing for the pre-processing of absentee ballots, local elections will be smoother for all.”
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