History of direct democracy in New Hampshire

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Initiative and referendum advocates were defeated at New Hampshire's 1902 constitutional convention by an overwhelming 250 to 40 vote of the delegates. George H. Duncan of East Joffrey, secretary of the New Hampshire Direct Legislation League in 1912, led an effort to pass I&R at the next state constitutional convention, but lost again by a vote of 166 to 156.

Ballot referendums and town meetings

The SB 2, or ballot referendum, form of government was instituted by the state legislature in 1995 because of concerns that modern lifestyles had made it difficult for people to attend traditional town meetings. Residents vote in an SB 2 election at a polling place throughout the day. They may also vote by absentee ballot. Municipalities that have adopted the SB 2 form of government may switch back to the traditional town meeting form by a 3/5 majority vote.

Under SB 2, a first session, called a "Deliberative Session," is held about a month prior to the town election. This session is similar in many ways to the traditional town meeting. However, unlike the town meeting, while the wording and dollar amounts of proposed ballot measures may be amended, no actual voting on the merits of the proposals takes place. The second session, held on a set election day, is when issues such as the town's budget and other measures, known as warrant articles, are voted upon.

When adopting SB 2, towns or school districts may hold elections on the second Tuesday in March, the second Tuesday in April, or the second Tuesday in May. The election dates may be changed by majority vote. If a vote is taken to approve the change of the local elections, the date becomes effective the following year.

In 2002, according to the University of New Hampshire Center for Public Policy studies, 171 towns in New Hampshire had the traditional town meeting, while 48 had SB 2. Another 15 municipalities, most of them incorporated cities, had no annual meeting. The study found that 102 school districts had traditional town meeting, 64 had SB2 meeting and 10 had no annual meeting.

Because traditional-meeting communities tend to be smaller, only one-third of the state's population was governed by traditional town meetings in 2002, and only 22 percent by traditional school-district meetings.

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