Is it time for the NH Constitutional Convention? Voters decide

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New Hampshire voters will have a chance to answer two questions in the Nov. 8 midterm election.

The first asks if the state should eliminate the Probate Office Registry: an elected county-level office whose functions were mostly eliminated in 2011. The second asks if the state should hold a convention to change its constitution.

Two questions are included in the November 8, 2022 ballots.

Question 1: Should New Hampshire eliminate the register of probate positions, an elected office?

The first question on the ballot asks voters if the state should eliminate a little-known post called the probate registry. It takes a two-thirds majority to pass.

Historically, the Probate Registry was an elected county official who helped people navigate probate court, which deals with things like estates, wills, adoption, and guardianship. After a judicial restructuring in 2011, these functions now fall to the court.

“Because the office is listed in the constitution with elected officials, the title remained but no duties,” said Donna Sytek, a former Republican House Speaker who served as the probate registry for Rockingham County in 2016. “The Probate Registry has no office, has no phone. I always say it doesn’t even have a ballpoint pen.

“I didn’t do anything,” she said of her time playing the role. She ran to argue that the roll should be officially scrapped — but because it’s mentioned in the New Hampshire Constitution, it’s up to voters to decide. Sytek said it doesn’t accept the $100 annual stipend that comes with the role, but points out that with 10 counties, that’s $2,000 in unnecessary government spending per biennium.

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Sytek and others in favor of eliminating the role call the constitutional amendment a stewardship measure. She thinks that court workers are better able to help people who are struggling to navigate.

But Jane Bradstreet, who is running for the Probate Registry in Merrimack County, argues the records still have a role to play. Bradstreet has served as probate registries since 1999, with a two-year hiatus when it lost the 2018 election. After the 2011 court restructuring, probate registries essentially lost what were paid professional jobs. She was then asked to develop the call center that took its place, and while the court has made progress in customer service, it is far from perfect.

“There’s hardly anyone there who can answer your probate court question,” she said. “They have a kiosk in the lobby where you can e-deposit, but no one comes out of the inner sanctum to help you.” This is the gap that the inheritance register filled.

People are still calling Bradstreet for help. “I don’t have a lot of power these days, but I still have influence and I know who to call,” she said.

Bradstreet encourages people to vote against eliminating the position.

His opponent, Scott Maltzie, agrees. He chairs the Merrimack County GOP and is running for Merrimack County probate, knowing the role could be eliminated. “That irony didn’t escape me,” he said.

As Sytek ran for the campaign post for his demise, Maltzie comes forward for his restoration. He wants to convince people that the functions of the position should be restored. Three Republican state senators also voted against the constitutional amendment when it was before the Legislature, where it received enough votes to be on the ballot.

“You have people who are grieving, perhaps facing one of the toughest, most challenging events in their lives, and they have to enter an electronic system that they may not be familiar with,” said Maltzie. “I think a lot of people in this role may be older, and maybe not as tech-savvy as younger people, and everyone is busy. You know, you need people out there who can help you navigate this.

Sytek argues that there is no guarantee that elected officials know about probate court and that court employees are better equipped to help.

The polling question itself may seem confusing since there is no mention of the inheritance register. This is because, by law, constitutional amendments must be printed on the ballot exactly as they will appear in the constitution if approved.

Here is how the question is worded: “Are you in favor of amending articles 71 and 81 of the second part of the constitution so that they read as follows: [Art.] 71. [County Treasurers, County Attorneys, Sheriffs, and Registers of Deeds Elected.] The county treasurers, county attorneys, sheriffs and registrars of deeds, shall be elected by the people of the various towns, in the various counties of the State, according to the method now practiced and the laws of the State, to provided, however, that the legislature shall have the power to modify the manner of certifying the votes and the mode of election of these officers; but not in such a way as to deprive the people of the right they now have to elect him. [Art.] 81. [Judges Not to Act as Counsel.] No judge may be an attorney, act as an attorney, or receive fees as an attorney or attorney, in any pending probate case, or may be brought before any probate court in the county in which he is judge. »

The only change this would make to the constitution would be the removal of the reference to the register of successions.

A yes vote is to eliminate the position and a no vote to preserve it.

Question 2: Should New Hampshire have a convention to amend the constitution?

At least every 10 years, voters decide whether the state should hold a constitutional convention to propose updating the state constitution. Ten years ago they voted against it, by a margin of 64% to 36%, and so this year the question is posed to voters again. It would take a simple majority to pass.

This is a chance for citizens to have their say on one of the vital documents in state government.

“This is an opportunity for the average voter, the concerned citizen, the county government person, the local government person to say, ‘I want my voice heard because I have ideas about what we have to do,'” said Liz Tentarelli, president of the New Hampshire League of Women Voters.

The last time the state held a constitutional convention was in 1984.

“It was like being a mini-legislator for six weeks,” said Arnie Arnesen, who launched his political career as his city’s delegate to the convention. She went on to serve as a Democratic state representative and was the first woman from New Hampshire to earn a major party nomination to run for governor. But when she first went to Concord, she didn’t have an agenda, she said, but curiosity. “You don’t show up as a partisan,” she said, “you show up as a citizen.”

Although Arnesen fondly remembers the convention, she objects to having another one, pointing out the toxicity of politics and misinformation. “This is the worst possible time to consider a constitutional convention because democracy is under threat,” she said.

Maltzie, a Republican, agreed that now was not the time to hold a convention due to people’s polarization. “I think ultimately we could end up with a much worse product,” he said.

If the measure is approved by voters, delegates would be elected in 2023 either at town halls or by special election, according to Secretary of State Dave Scanlan. Each of the 400 districts in the state would have the opportunity to elect a delegate to represent it at the convention.

That convention would be held at the State House and would require a three-fifths majority — or 60% of delegates — to vote in favor of an amendment for it to move forward. In this case, the amendment would be put to voters in the 2024 election as a ballot question requiring a two-thirds majority to actually change the constitution.

This story was originally posted by New Hampshire Bulletin.

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