Among other issues that voters in Salem, N.H., were supposed to decide at the polls on Tuesday was what to do with snow-removal money left over from last year. But that vote, along with elections for various town positions, was delayed. For a snowstorm.
With a nor’easter bearing down on the region, local officials all over New Hampshire scrambled to figure out what this meant for their scheduled elections. By state law, town elections are supposed to occur annually on the second Tuesday in March, with no exceptions. (Many towns also hold a formal town meeting on that day.) But according to another state law, town officials have the explicit right to reschedule or postpone an election because of a weather emergency.
As a result, officials in each town made up their own minds with less than 24 hours’ notice — and more than a little confusion.
Governor Chris Sununu didn’t offer much help. After consulting with the attorney general about the conflicting state laws, Sununu said he was encouraging towns to hold elections, but he wasn’t forcing them. However, he warned, if they rescheduled they could possibly be sued. As the storm hit on Tuesday, Sununu stuck by his statement — even as he announced that state courts would close by noon.
“It’s our understanding that a lot of towns have already made a choice to postpone their elections,” Sununu told reporters Monday. “There are some differing opinions at the state level as to whether that is a valid process for them to take. The best we can do is to strongly recommend that all towns stay open for voting tomorrow. We think that’s a very important part of the process. But given the differing opinions, I don’t think we’re in a position to mandate that towns stay open or change their direction if they choose not to.”
Officials in Sununu’s hometown of Newfields on the Seacoast delayed their vote to next week. Other communities came to a variety of confounding solutions.
Consider the predicament of three towns in the eastern part of the state, which were all scheduled to vote for members of their joint school board. Voting was scheduled to continue as normal in Durham. In neighboring Madbury, the election will now be on Thursday. And in Lee, officials rescheduled the voting to Saturday.
Or consider the situation in Amherst, where town offices were closed but voting was still on at the high school — where classes had been canceled because of the storm.
There are 221 towns and 13 cities in New Hampshire. Most of the smaller towns, particularly in rural areas, continue with the tradition of an actual meeting among town residents. Larger towns, particularly in the Boston commuter zone, have opted to forgo a meeting, instead making spending and zoning decisions via printed ballots at the polls.
In Salem, which holds an election, the decision to delay the vote wasn’t controversial, said town moderator Christopher Goodnow, given how little feedback he has received.
“Let me say, I love snow. The only thing better than 1 foot of snow is 2 feet of snow,” said Goodnow, who made the decision to postpone elections in his town. “But as I drive around today, I know I made the right decision. This was about public safety for voters and for election officials.”
For candidates, the storm also brought uncertainty about voter turnout and their election chances. Catherine Rombeau, a candidate for the Bedford, N.H., Town Council, is running for office for the first time. She had the date March 14 circled on her calendar.
As the storm approached, she received texts from supporters about whether there would be a vote. And by 3:30 p.m. Monday, the moderator delayed the vote to Thursday.
As Rombeau walked her dogs Tuesday morning, she wondered if she should take advantage of the extra campaign time by knocking on some more doors, since so many neighbors were at home.
“I decided I would just campaign by making phone calls and do social media,” Rombeau said. “I didn’t want to freak people out who just wanted a day home in their PJs.”
Meanwhile in Hampton, officials decided to go on as planned with elections on Tuesday. Voters had two large school-funding proposals to consider. Firefighters offered to drive voters who called the dispatch line to the polls — but fire captain Michael McMahon said that by noon only one person had called for a ride.
“There were hundreds getting absentee ballots on Monday,” McMahon said. “But a lot of people got to the poll right at 7 a.m. when it opened and the weather wasn’t as bad. Then I suppose they went right home and called it a day.”James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fol-low him on Twitter @jamespindell or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politics:http://pages.email.bostonglobe.com/GroundGameSignUp