NH voters appear to turn down constitutional convention, but not to retire Register of Probate role

Adam Drapcho, GSNC

Voters appeared to vote down both ballot questions on Tuesday. 

The measures, if approved, would have amended the state’s Constitution to remove a role that had already been made redundant and would have authorized holding a constitutional convention. 

The first question sought to relocate the title of Register of Probate to the state’s history books since, explained Anna Brown, director of research and analysis for the voter education nonprofit Citizens Count, the role had largely been removed from any responsibilities after a reorganization of the judicial branch.

As of 12 p.m. on Thursday with the Associated Press reporting results from roughly 78% of polling places, 63.7% had voted in favor of the measure to eliminate the position of Register of Probate.

A constitutional amendment requires a 2/3 majority from voters.

Many voters might have had no idea that was what the question was about, however, Brown said.

“The question shows what the constitution would look like if the phrase ‘Registers of Probate’ was removed, without ever saying the title. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of voters skipped the question or voted against it because they were not sure what the change entailed,” Brown said.

The second question, asking voters if they wished to hold a constitutional convention, is statutorily added to the ballot every ten years, Brown said, though she didn’t know of any group advocating for its passage. She noted that voters haven’t approved of the measure since that last convention was held in 1982, and that the question was defeated by nearly two-thirds of voters in 2012.

Not much appears to have changed in voters’ sentiments on the question, as only 33.9% of voters favored a constitutional convention, according to the roughly 78% of votes available on Wednesday morning.

Had the question passed, it would have triggered a process in which voters would be asked to elect delegates to a convention. Any action taken at the convention would have to clear successive high bars, though, before becoming part of the state’s constitution. Three-fifths of the elected delegates would have to approve any proposed changes, then the proposals would need support from two-thirds of voters.

Regardless of whether any change resulted, a constitutional convention could make for an interesting process, Brown said.

“With the highly partisan environment these days, I could see some spicy debates at a constitutional convention,” Brown said. A ban on income and sales tax would likely garner some debate, she said, as might raising the mandatory retirement age for judges. National issues would likely also find some time on the convention floor, such as access to reproductive health care, “but those amendments would be unlikely to pass the supermajority threshold,” she said.

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