Is the NH House too large? Here’s one answer

To the editor:

In response to Brad Cook’s article in the NH Business Review of Aug. 3-16 (“Is the NH House too large?), I offer the following:

In 1974 I was elected to the NH Constitutional Convention from Grafton District 4, one of 400 non-partisan delegates. Besides many other topics, the convention extensively discussed the size of the NH House, and it was decided to leave it the same.

However, three delegates (myself of Lisbon-Sugar Hill, Norwood Keeney of Hudson and Jean Wallin of Nashua) offered Resolution 68, which mandated that the NH House create single-member districts for its members.

At the time, only 35 of the 400 members of the House were being elected from single-member districts; the rest ran at-large in districts ranging in size from two to 11 representatives. The reason for the situation is a New Hampshire constitutional prohibition preventing the division of a town, ward or place into smaller voting precincts; Resolution 68 sought to correct this to mandate that the entire House of Representatives be from single-member districts. Note that this was already (and still remains the case) with New Hampshire senators and executive councilors.

After hearing all of the other resolutions, on June 20, 1974, the convention debated Resolution 68. The Committee on Legislative Size had heard testimony from the sponsors and others, and decided to amend the resolution to not mandate single-member legislative districts, but instead provide for these by local option.

The ballot question appeared in November 1976, where it lost, and again in November 1978 (being re-introduced by the Legislature itself), where it won. So as of November 1978, the New Hampshire Constitution allows for the creation of single-member districts by local option, but in the ensuing 40 years, no locality (to my knowledge) has initiated such a request. So there remain a few single-member districts, with the rest being at-large.

The more members who are in an at-large district, the farther any one of them are from their voters. Further, with a dubious technique called a “bullet vote,” many members of the Legislature from multi-member districts serve with less than a majority of the votes cast; in a single-member district, only one vote is allowed.

In fact, the situation has gotten worse in that many of the smaller districts have been aggregated into larger ones, further removing an individual House Member from his or her constituents.

So, to sum up, the reason, in my opinion, for the lack of attendance and apparent lack of interest of members of the NH House is they are not connected to their voters as senators or executive councilors are. Please see Page 414 of The State of New Hampshire-Convention to Revise the Constitution, May 1974, for a complete discussion.

George E. Foss III

Fernandina Beach, Fla.

Categories: Letters to the Editor