11/3/17 by Michelle Sanborn, NHCRN Board of Directors
NOTE: This piece was submitted to newspapers statewide, and to the best of our knowledge, no one ran it.
Local elections are deeply connected to local control and local control is deeply connected to direct democratic decision-making. Therefore, state election officials who are determined to deny local control are in fact working against the people's right to direct democracy.
According to a Union Leader article, Bill gives state power to postpone local elections, published on October 30, 2017, “A House-Senate committee created to resolve conflicts that surfaced last March unanimously agreed to draft a bill that settles the matter in a way more satisfactory to the secretary of state than to the N.H. Municipal Association.” Where is the voice of local people and the town moderators the people elected? The secretary of state was not elected by the people, he was elected by the state legislature.
The nor’easter that created blizzard conditions during the 2017 local March elections created more confusion among state elected officials than local. Local election officials from almost 80 towns saw the value of protecting the health, safety and welfare of voters when - with input from road crews, emergency departments, and weather reports - they used common sense and postponed local elections. It was logical and sensible for the public to accept postponement of town elections; however, our elections, our votes, and the legitimacy of our local election officials were cast into doubt by state officials who appeared offended that the central government apparatus didn’t get the final say over who made the call to postpone.
The solution? a House-Senate committee was created to “resolve conflicts” over who has the authority to decide whether or not local elections get postponed and what constitutes an acceptable reason to postpone. The state committee decided that the non-citizen elected secretary of state now holds authority over citizen-elected town moderators and other local election officials to have final say regarding the health, safety and welfare of voters in their own local communities. Local election officials can weigh in with their opinion and make a request for postponement, but the state gets final decision-making authority over whether or not it is “safe” for you to vote.
The same Union Leader article quoted Senator Jeff Woodburn as saying, “I cannot imagine the secretary of state saying ‘No’ if a town has a legitimate reason for wanting to postpone”, yet that is exactly what happened during the statewide weather emergency on election day. Almost 80 towns expressed a legitimate reason to postpone elections, yet the secretary of state was opposed and insisted towns keep the polls open. Pray for good weather forever and always on election day because you may have to risk your life to vote if Mother Nature sends us another election-day storm.
At least the N.H. Municipal Association sees the value of local elections being determined locally. The association's Executive Director, Judy Silva, was quoted in the Union Leader article as saying, “Inserting a state official into that decision-making process violates local control, is unnecessary and unwieldy.” The NH Community Rights Network (NHCRN) wholeheartedly agrees and supports a call to amend the state constitution to recognize the right of local community self-government.
Representative Ellen Read of Rockingham District 17, has introduced a State Constitutional amendment that would guarantee local communities the authority to protect the health, safety and welfare of individuals, communities, and ecosystems. Representative Read states, “I truly hope my colleagues join me in supporting the Community Rights Amendment because it means doing exactly what we came to Concord to do – protect the people and resources of NH. This Amendment places the power back into the hands of the governed…the very thing our Revolutionary ancestors fought for.”
NHCRN is a non-profit, grassroots organization that seeks to empower communities and elected officials with education and authority about our individual and collective right of local self-governance in order to secure and protect the inherent and unalienable rights of all inhabitants of New Hampshire to economic, social and environmental justice. For more information about the NHCRN or the proposed constitutional amendment, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nhcommunityrights.org.