The Bulletin Board

Senate panel approves earlier state primary date

By: - May 24, 2021 3:33 pm
State flag and the State House dome

Some lawmakers have inserted misinformation into the debate over the state’s abortion ban. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

On Monday, the Senate Election Law Committee approved a proposal to move New Hampshire’s state primary election to August – a midway point between the House proposal to move the election to June and the current September primary date.

The panel also approved two other proposals on Monday: one would require the attorney general to analyze absentee ballot information and the other would establish a study commission on campaign finance laws.  

New Hampshire’s state primary is currently one of the latest in the country; proponents of the earlier date argue that a late primary gives an unfair advantage to incumbents who already have name recognition with voters.

Senators in Monday’s session said they heard from town clerks that a primary in June, however, would come at a difficult time of the year, when town clerks are also charged with completing tax bills for their town or city.

Sens. Donna Soucy and Regina Birdsell met with Vermont’s secretary of state, as Vermont has recently changed the state primary date to the second week in August.

The Vermont secretary of state said there was an uptick in participation after the primary date changed, but that this was credited to the candidates who were running in the 2020 election, not the date the election was held.

“One of the things the secretary of state pointed out is that in their mind, the most significant reason for increase or decrease in participation is really the candidates that are running, and whether there are active primaries or not,” Soucy said.

If signed into law, House Bill 98 would go into effect in January 2023, after redistricting has taken place.   

Both the amendment and the bill itself passed the committee on a unanimous vote.

House Bill 291 was amended so that it would require the attorney general to analyze absentee ballot information.

Sen. James Gray, a Rochester Republican who wrote the amendment, said his vision was for a report to be written based on information from a database detailing if multiple ballots were sent to one address. Other information could include the age of people voting.

For instance, if 10 people in a household were of college age and receiving absentee ballots, “then that doesn’t rise to the same kind of concern that if I have that number of ballots and it is distributed over a broad age bracket,” Gray said.

“This is trying to be not intrusive on people’s lives, but just looking to see if there is anything that does need to be checked out a little bit further,” Gray said.

Soucy said the measure was unnecessary.

“I just don’t see the need for the legislation,” she said. “These are processes that already occur.”

Both Soucy and Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka voted against the bill.

Finally, the committee passed a study commission to look into campaign finance laws. The commission would be made up of participants from the Secretary of State’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, two senators, and three representatives.

The findings from the study commission would be presented on or before June 1, 2022, to inform legislation in 2023.

“I think the last thing any of us want to do is create ambiguity around the 2022 elections,” Perkins Kwoka said about the timing.

The panel passed the proposal to create a study commission unanimously. The proposals will next be heard by the entire Senate.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.