Recounts, Recounts, Recounts

The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office has completed 11 of the 16 scheduled recounts in contested statehouse elections. No results changed because of these recounts.

Wednesday will begin the recount for Executive Council District 5, where former Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler leads over the current office-holder, Debora Pignatelli, by 2,499 votes.

Councilor Pignatelli requested the recount after an apparent under-vote in the town of Merrimack. Originally, Wheeler bested Pignatelli by only 1,227 votes, or 0.82 percent. The Friday following the election, Merrimack corrected their results, nearly doubling Wheeler’s lead. The correction added 1,652 for Wheeler and 380 for Pignatelli.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner told New Hampshire Journal on Friday the recount will begin with seven teams recounting the town of Merrimack to verify that result.

The Secretary of State’s office has already hand recounted much of the district for other races. Senate Districts 11 and 12 are entirely inside the E.C. 5 District, as is much of District 9. Those recounts saw minimal changes in vote totals.

Candidates who requested the recount can cancel at any point during the process, according to the Secretary of State. Last week, Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough) canceled her recount against Denise Ricciardi (R-Bedford) about half-way through. Ricciardi prevailed over Dietsch by 409 votes in Senate District 9.

Pressure will mount for Pignatelli to cancel the recount if Merrimack doesn’t see a significant shift, sources tell NHJournal.

The E.C. 5 recount will be the largest recount if the whole process is completed, and could take up to four days. Voters cast 151,379 ballots in that contest, nearly one-fifth of all ballots cast in the state on November 3. Each side – Pignatelli’s and Wheeler’s – will need up to 14 volunteers to observe the recount each day it continues. The Secretary of State’s office will have seven teams of two staffers.

Pignatelli and Wheeler have each held the seat for five terms over the previous two decades.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the Secretary of State will hand recount four State Representative races. Sullivan District 9 and Merrimack District 20 face recounts on Monday. Hillsborough District 4 and Sullivan District 2 will be recounted Tuesday.

Freshman Orientation & Leadership Elections

Newly-elected legislators will receive orientation on Wednesday, November 18.

Multiple Democratic Representatives will then jockey for the Minority Leader role for the next biennium. The Democrats will caucus Thursday, November 19 to make their selection.

So far, three Democrats have officially tossed their hats in the ring: current Democrat Majority Leader Doug Ley of Jaffrey, Rep. Marjorie Smith of Durham, and freshman Rep. Matt Wilhelm of Manchester. Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton has floated the idea of his own candidacy but has not confirmed.

Former candidate for Governor Andru Volinsky says, “it’s time for change.” In a tweet about the upcoming House Leadership election, Volinsky lays some blame for the down-ballot losses in the General Election at current House leadership’s feet: “When a party fails to protect down-ballot majorities, it may be time to change leadership. The House caucus has its chance this Thursday.” Volinsky then urges followers to “contact [their] Rep.”

Marjorie Smith has served in the legislature since 1996, with the exception of the 2011-2012 biennium. She expressed disappointment that outgoing Speaker Steve Shurtleff weighed in on the race in favor of Doug Ley. In a letter to Democrats, Smith says, “I regret more that [Shurtleff] chose to name a successor rather than leave that important task to the newly elected Democrat caucus.”

The Republicans, on the other hand, appear united heading into their caucus Friday, November 20. With only Dick Hinch of Merrimack currently seeking election for Speaker of the House, it’s all but certain. Last week, Al Baldasaro of Londonderry dropped his candidacy and announced full support for Hinch, urging a united GOP caucus for the next biennium.

Organization Day

The current New Hampshire Legislature will dissolve at 12:00:59 on Wednesday, December 2. Later that day, legislators elected on November 3 will be sworn into their new offices.

Because of the pandemic, this process will take place at the University of New Hampshire. Legislators met outside the State House for only the second time in history this June, meeting at the Whittemore Center at UNH. Never before has Organization Day taken place off-site.

The proceedings will be closed to families and guests, but the proceedings will be live-streamed.

In a joint session of the legislature, the 424 Representatives and Senators will elect a Secretary of State, and Sergeant at Arms. Bill Gardner has not yet announced whether he’ll seek re-election for a 22nd term. In 2018, Colin Van Ostern presented a serious challenge to Gardner under a Democrat majority. Ultimately, Gardner prevailed by one vote, edging out Van Ostern, who spent bushels of cash in an attempt to win the office.

House members are expected to formally elect Dick Hinch as Speaker. The Senate, with a 14-10 GOP Majority, will elect Chuck Morse of Salem to another term as Senate President.

The Senate Democrats selected Donna Soucy as their leader for the next biennium.

Legislation Filing Period Closes Friday

The Office of Legislative Services has received 240 Legislative Service Requests so far, according to the N.H. General Court website. These LSRs are the first step to bills being introduced for next year’s legislative sessions.

Incumbents and newly elected legislators have until Friday to file their bill requests. Then, they have 10 days to “sign-off” on the versions drafted by OLS – the office in charge of drafting bill language.

Of the filed requests are many repeats. A Concord Democrat filed a minimum-wage increase. A Republican Rep filed a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting an income tax. Democrats filed another independent redistricting commission bill and a bill that would require a mandatory waiting period when purchasing a firearm.

Republicans, led by Hinch, have submitted a bill that would repeal the 6 percent trigger for business tax increases. They’ve also submitted a request for a bill that would enable Education Savings Accounts. ESAs were a priority of Governor Sununu’s that fell short under the Republican majority in 2017 and 2018.

And, as expected, Republicans filed multiple bills aimed to clarify the Executive Branch’s use of Emergency Powers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Republicans were outspoken about the use of these powers, and now under a majority aim to limit the future use of such powers.

Click to listen to NH Journal pod podcast