BELKNAP COUNTY — A greater number of residents of the towns in Belknap County governed by the Official Ballot Act (SB form of town meeting — so called "SB-2 towns" — participated in annual town meetings this year than their counterparts in towns that have retained the traditional town meeting format.
The 10 townships in Belknap County are evenly divided between the two forms of government. Alton, Belmont, Gilford, Gilmanton and New Hampton have adopted SB -2 while Barnstead, Center Harbor, Meredith, Sanbornton and Tilton hold traditional town meetings.
In the five SB-2 towns voting for both town officials and warrant articles is by a single secret ballot on the second Tuesday of March. In the other five towns voters cast their ballots for town officials by secret ballot on the same Tuesday and vote on warrant articles at town meeting on that same night, or later.
The difference in participation was most marked by the number of registered voters casting ballots on warrant articles, which was significantly higher in the five SB-2 towns, Turnout was 42.4 percent in Gilmanton, 21.2 percent in Alton, 19.5 percent in New Hampton, 17.9 percent in Gilford and 13.9 percent in Belmont.
By contrast, the largest share of registered voters attending town meeting to vote on warrant articles was in Center Harbor, where 8.5 percent took part, followed by 7.9 percent in Sanbornton, 3.6 percent in Barnstead, 3 percent in Tilton and 2.4 percent in Meredith. Discounting the results in Gilmanton, the percentage of voters casting official ballots exceeded those attending town meetings by margins ranging from one-and-half to 10 times. In numbers, attendance at town meeting was highest in Sanbornton, where 173 took part, while 114 were present in Meredith, 110 in Barnstead, 70 in Center Harbor and 71 in Tilton.
However, in the voting for town officials, the monopoly of the top spots by SB-2 towns was broken. With 42.4 percent of voters casting ballots, Gilmanton again led the field. But, Sanbornton, where 24 of voters cast ballots, topped the other four SB-2 towns. Alton, with turnout of 21.2 percent, was next, followed by Meredith, where 19.7 percent of voters went to the polls. New Hampton at 19.5 percent and Gilford at 17.9 percent followed, but Center Harbor, with turnout of 15 percent, edged Belmont, the remaining SB-2 town, where 13.9 percent of voters cast ballots. Turnout was lowest in Barnstead at 12.2 percent and Tilton at 11.7 percent.
This year Gilmanton was an outlier, with turnout ranging from between twice and 20 times higher than the other nine towns in the county, which reflected the number of controversial issues on the ballot. These included the budget, funding for the Year-Round Library, rescinding SB-2, two petitioned warrant articles requesting the removal of properties from the historic district and an article to appoint rather than elect the road agent.
Likewise, the relatively high turnout to elect town officials in Meredith, where almost nine times as many voters cast ballots as attended town meeting, was driven by the contest among eight candidates for the two open seats on the Board of Selectmen.
In traditional town meeting towns, the difference between the number of voters who cast ballots for town officials on March 10 and the number who voted on warrant articles at town meeting was striking. In Barnstead, less than a third (375 - 110) of the number of people who cast ballots turned up at the town meeting. In Meredith the number dropped from 945 to 114 and in Sanbornton the total went from 531 down to 173. Tilton did not better – 282 residents cast ballots and only 71 went to town meeting. The difference between the two numbers was narrowest in Center Harbor, where 124 people cast ballots and 70 voted at town meeting.
- Category: Local News
- Hits: 359