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Voters in N.H. can’t remove sitting elected officials, but a bill may change that

Monitor staff
Published: 1/23/2018 5:22:38 PM

No matter how irritated New Hampshire voters get with their elected officials, they have no way to remove them from office before their terms are up. A couple of proposals before the Legislature – one bill targeting select boards and one proposed constitutional amendment – might change that.

House Bill 1299 would allow recall elections for members of a town’s select board. Currently, selectmen can be removed from office only by other selectmen taking the issue to court.

The bill was put forward by three state representatives from Grafton County following a disagreement among select board members in the small town of Piermont, said Steve Darrow, R-Grafton, one of the sponsors.

“It ended up costing the town thousands of dollars in legal fees,” Darrow said.

He said it seems wrong that “what was decided in the ballot box gets changed by a judge’s gavel.”

It is very rare for members of select boards to try to remove their colleagues. An effort in Salem in 2014 ended up in a court settlement two years later that saw one selectman banned from seeking office in town for a decade.

The proposed bill is set for an executive session Thursday. At a hearing last week, Darrow said there was discussion about details such as how many voters would be needed to sign petitions provoking a recall election, including whether the initial petition should have to be signed by as many as 50 percent of registered voters in town.

“It’s got to be a real problem for this to take effect. I think that would exclude these little issues that come up where factions are fighting,” said Darrow, who touted his experience serving as a selectman for a dozen years

“I know the politics of small towns,” he said

However, Secretary of State Bill Gardner said a proposed constitutional amendment would probably have to pass before any bill allowing recall votes of select board members could take effect.

“The bottom line is that New Hampshire is not a recall state,” Gardner said.

A proposed constitutional amendment seeks to change that.

Known as CACR18, the amendment would add the phrase “and to provide a recall procedure to permit citizens to remove a state officer before the end of a term of office” to Article 5 of the second part of the state constitution, which concerns forms of government.

Sponsored by four Democrats and one Republican member of the House, it is slated to be discussed before the House Election Law Committee on Jan. 30.

If it passes the House and Senate by three-fifths margins, the proposal would then be put on the ballot at the next general election. It would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the statewide election to become part of the state constitution.

The situation of whether recall elections can occur in New Hampshire has been argued before courts in the past. The law is somewhat muddled; for example, RSA 49-D:3(e) says municipalities that draw up their own charters can hold recall elections, but it bases itself on another law, RSA 49-C, that mentions voter initiatives and referendums but does not mention recall elections as a citizen power.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


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