As they have for more than 400 years, New Hampshire residents will make some weighty municipal and school decisions Tuesday, when polls around the state open for Town Meeting voting.
Voters will decide how much money to spend, elect neighbors to lead the town and school district, and, in several cases, decide whether to spend millions of dollars for school improvement projects.
If attendance at deliberative sessions earlier this winter is any benchmark, a very small percentage of the voting population will make decisions that will impact each and every citizen is the year ahead.
To say attendance at those deliberative sessions was abysmal might be an exaggeration. It was beyond that. Around Southern New Hampshire, the percentage of registered voters who made the time to listen to budget explanations, debate spending and weigh in on warrant articles hovered around 1 percent.
Derry School District officials applauded the turnout, saying it was a healthier discussion and a better attendance figure than in recent memory. Sadly, the applause was for a turnout of 1.1 percent of Derry’s estimated 20,115 registered voters. That’s hardly praiseworthy.
There’s plenty of grumbling echoing around the Granite State when tax bills arrive in the mail or town officials make unpopular decisions. Unfortunately, that didn’t result in a slew of contested races on Tuesday’s ballot, nor much interest in the budgeting process or the discussion of warrant articles.
On Tuesday, voters will have at least 12 hours within which to get themselves to the polls and cast ballots. Undoubtedly, many will have a reason why they couldn’t find the time to do so.
Town Meeting is democracy at its most local level. It gives every citizen an opportunity to choose who will lead and how much those elected leaders will have to spend. But this annual exercise increasingly is one that’s ignored, that has the majority of residents sitting on the couch or slapping their foreheads in a mock display of forgetfulness.