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Hanover to hold Town Meeting in July

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2021 1:17:50 AM
Modified: 4/20/2021 1:17:49 AM

HANOVER — Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have prompted election officials to postpone Hanover’s Town Meeting to July, worrying one candidate who is relying on fellow Dartmouth College students to cast ballots this year.

The new July 13 meeting date is roughly a month after Dartmouth’s graduation, meaning many students on the town’s voter rolls will have already left campus, especially seniors, according to David Millman, a Dartmouth sophomore who said he will run for one of two Selectboard seats up for election.

And while students who are registered voters in Hanover could vote for officers and zoning amendments via absentee ballot, many may find the process too cumbersome and sit out, Millman said in a phone interview last week.

“I don’t think there were bad intentions but the fact of the matter is that it makes it harder for students to vote,” he said of the decision to push back Town Meeting from its traditional May date.

Millman, a member of the Dartmouth Student Assembly and New Hampshire co-chair of the anti-sexual assault Every Voice Coalition, went on to say that the postponement of Town Meeting perpetuates “ a sentiment that students and the town are two separate communities.”

However, officials say the Town Meeting date was chosen solely by logistics and is meant to make voting comfortable for more voters, not fewer.

It’s unlikely Hanover’s residents will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the original May 11 date, Town Manager Julia Griffin said. And under state law, she said, the only alternatives are the second Tuesday in June or the second Tuesday in July.

Griffin said the June date would place   Town Meeting too close to Dartmouth’s June 13 commencement ceremony and the following transition in housing. That leaves July, she said.  

Town officials opted to hold the event at Dartmouth’s Dewey Field parking lot in a drive-in event similar to last year’s Town Meeting, which saw at least 115 cars taking part in the floor portion of the meeting.

“It would be unfair for us to ask the college to make the Dewey Field parking lot available to us (in early June),” she said. “The place is teeming with people who are busy trying to pack up and get out, and that parking lot is heavily used.”

Griffin added that any registered voters, whether they’re students who left town or full-time residents vacationing out of state, can request an absentee ballot.

“We felt that we weren’t depriving students or folks who might be away for the summer from being able to vote,” she said. “And, out of an abundance of caution, we didn’t want to hold it in May.”

Election officials who met to discuss Town Meeting last month shared similar sentiments.

Town Clerk Betsy McClain told the Selectboard that meeting inside Hanover High School wouldn’t allow for proper social distancing, while Town Moderator Jeremy Eggleton said he tried unsuccessfully to get state officials to agree to a virtual meeting.

Both acknowledged that the outdoor event isn’t perfect, pointing to last year’s event when pine pitch on a ballot caused problems with one machine.

While Dartmouth students and voting rights groups are active in Hanover during primary and general elections, where they contribute to New Hampshire’s Democratic voter base, they’re “not typically very active” at Town Meeting, Griffin said.

For instance, last year’s Town Meeting saw just 1,043 votes cast with eight same-day registrants, compared to 7,171 votes and 309 same-day registrations during the November presidential election.

The few exceptions to that rule appear to be when decisions connected to Dartmouth students are on the ballot.

Driven by a proposed zoning amendment that would have given more autonomy to the school’s fraternities, Dartmouth students flooded the polls in 2017, resulting in a count that took until after 2 a.m. for election officials to complete. That year, 3,503 voters cast ballots, though the housing measure favored by Dartmouth fraternities failed.

Town officials said they were not aware of any active Dartmouth student having been elected to the Selectboard in the past. The seats that are up are held by Nancy Carter and Joanna Whitcomb. While Millman has said he is running, the filing period for candidates in Hanover has yet to open. It runs from May 26 to June 4.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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