Were you there for the big day? No, we’re not talking about Super Bowl Sunday (although, if you were, we’re jealous).
This past week (and next week for some) came the town and school deliberative sessions, and those should be circled dates on the calendar, just as much as the Super Bowl.
We have the unusual opportunity as New Hampshire residents of being able to express our views in a forum specifically designed for that purpose, and to propose changes to the articles up for vote if we deem it necessary.
Remember, it’s the articles that come out of these deliberative sessions that we will be voting on in March by secret ballot, and their wording, thanks to the action at the deliberative session, may not come out the same as what we had started with.
The deliberative session is a hybrid animal-no up or down voting on articles, as the case would be at the old-style Town Meeting, but voters (no majority required) can propose and vote on amendments to the article, thus altering what goes on the ballot in March. That’s a powerful position for a voter to have.
Of course, it’s only a position of power if we choose to exercise it. Staying at home conveys no power at all, and changes warrant a small collection of voters with a specific agenda often determine articles. That’s why it’s so important not only to attend the deliberative sessions, but also to stay for the duration of them. In some towns, this takes about an hour or so, but in some, sessions can last for up to four or five hours, and in others, it can mean 10 or 11 hours of your free time.
But think about it: one Saturday or one evening a year? It really isn’t so much to sacrifice for the ability to change a town or school budget or to cut back or increase road spending. But it’s only possible if you choose to attend.
If you missed it this year, don’t worry! Your voice can still be heard. Get the information from your town hall, don’t forget to vote in March, and put your town’s deliberative session on the calendar for 2018. You won’t regret going. But if you miss out, you might end up with a bit to regret later on.
You’ll get used to the deliberative session, and in time it will become part of your winter routine. All you need to do is pay attention as the moderator explains the rules, and read the proposed warrant articles. It’s just another step in becoming an informed citizen, and getting down to the business of participatory democracy.