A bipartisan group of lawmakers is seeking to fast-track a bill allowing towns to postpone their town meetings as far back as July, as concerns over the state of COVID-19 in March persist.
Sen. James Gray, a Rochester Republican and the incoming chairman of the Election Law and Municipal Affairs committee, is sponsoring the bill and pushing for it to be approved quickly.
The bill, Senate Bill 2, would allow towns or cities to push back town elections and annual meetings to the second Tuesday of April, May, June or even July. Those elections are typically held in March. The deliberative sessions ahead of those meetings could also be postponed.
Town representatives would be required to announce the amended dates 14 days before the rescheduled date.
Joining Gray in co-sponsoring the bill are top leaders of the House and Senate Republican leadership, including Senate President Chuck Morse of Salem; Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro and acting-House Speaker Sherman Packard of Londonderry.
The bill would also bring back several temporary changes to absentee voting implemented for the elections last year, and allow them to be applied to town meeting days.
It would allow moderators of elections to partially process absentee ballots in the days ahead of Election Day — in this case Town Meeting day.
Normally, the outer and inner envelopes of an absentee ballot cannot be touched until the day of the election, but New Hampshire lawmakers passed a measure last year allowing them to be partly opened ahead of time to allow election officials to look for irregularities on the voter affidavits and approve signatures.
That partial processing could take place on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Monday ahead of the election itself — provided that towns gave proper notice to voters.
The ability to partially process the ballots helped town officials in November prepare for what was a historic onslaught of absentee ballots that needed to be processed and counted in one day.
The measure was supposed to be temporary for last year’s state primaries and general election, but Senate Bill 2 would bring it back until Aug. 1, when it would expire again.