Bar News - November 3, 2006
Representation Is the Question for Ballot Question 2
The Oct. 20 Bar News covered Ballot Question 1 that proposed new language for the NH Constitution that would govern the use of eminent domain. There is a second question on the ballot this year that deals with solely a political question — the makeup of the NH House of Representatives.
Voters in the Nov. 7 general election will be asked to consider a proposed amendment to the NH Constitution that its backers say will create more opportunity for citizens of smaller towns to be represented in the NH House of Representatives.
Voting yes on the amendment would undo a 2002 NH Supreme Court decision, Burling v. Chandler, that invalidated the legislature’s method of creating legislative districts. The complicated language of the amendment, essentially, returns the emphasis on the district-making process to ensuring that each small town in the state has at least one representative to call its own. Supporters say that the current, court-mandated system has too many districts comprised of multiple communities, and that as a result, candidates from the larger towns in those districts tend to dominate the elections.
Opponents of the amendment, including Sen. Peter Burling, who in 2002 was a member of the NH House and House Democratic Leader, say that the current method should be retained because it does a better job of ensuring that the sizes of districts are numerically equivalent, and, thus, the system comes closer to meeting the “one-person, one-vote” principle.
The district-making scheme as outlined by the amendment would create districts for every town, ward or unincorporated place, as long as it met what the minimum threshold of voters was for a single-member district. Because some districts would have excess numbers of voters beyond that threshold, “floterial” districts spanning several adjoining communities would be created to account for the excess numbers.
In the Burling decision, the Court faulted the use of floterials, contending that “floterials, as constructed in New Hampshire, have led to unusual results and voting right inequities.”