Deliberative sessions are the times specifically set aside to discuss and potentially change warrant articles. Residents don’t vote on whether or not to approve the warrant article at deliberative session – they vote instead to send the article to the warrant, and on Election Day, they vote the warrant article up or down.
At deliberative session, voters can amend a warrant article (except those whose language is prescribed by law – usually zoning amendments), so long as they do not change the subject matter. Or they can leave it as proposed.
Depending on who’s in the audience, school budget articles, for example, can be amended up or down before they go to the March ballot. That’s why you often hear the fear that some group will “pack” the deliberative session and “force” their views on everyone else.
There’s no force. It’s up to whichever registered voters show up. If the turnout is poor and few people are there to promote or defend their views, the majority of those present will have their way. It’s all in the hands of the voters who attend.
To participate, all you need do is to register to vote, attend deliberative, pay attention as the moderator explains the rules, read the proposed warrant articles, listen to public comment and vote on any changes or to send the article as is to the warrant.
The articles on the warrant hit us where we live, and as New Hampshire residents, we have the right to express our views in a forum specifically designed for that purpose, and to change articles if we have the votes. And it’s the articles that come out of deliberative session, not necessarily the ones that were on the warrant before the session begins, that we vote on in March.
Voters are clearly in the seat of power. That’s why it’s so important not only to attend, but to stay for the whole deliberative session. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not such a time-consuming commitment to make.
In some towns, a deliberative session takes an hour or so. Others last four or five hours. In still others, getting through 20-plus warrant articles means 10 or 11 hours of your free time.
Plan to attend, and play a role in one of the most participatory forms of democracy alive today. We can wave the flag and claim to be patriotic all we want; if we really believe in democracy, the deliberative session is the place to be.
And if you want to play an even more active role, Friday, Jan. 31, is the final day to file for elected school district or town office. Go for it.