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New Hampshire voters will see two constitutional questions on the Nov. 8 ballot

Dan Tuohy

This story was originally produced by the Keene Sentinel. NHPR is republishing it in partnership with the Granite State News Collaborative.

In addition to candidates ranging from governor to county officials, two questions will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot in New Hampshire.

One asks whether a convention should be held to change the New Hampshire Constitution. The other inquires whether a reference to county registers of probate should be stripped from the constitution, effectively eliminating this position.

NHPR voter guide: What you need to know to cast your ballot in New Hampshire

New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan said his office put the convention question on the ballot as required by the constitution. Voters must be asked at least every 10 years whether such a convention should be held. Voters rejected such a question in a landslide in 2012, the last time it was on the ballot.

Changes to the constitution can be placed on the ballot by the New Hampshire Legislature. Backers of issues that lack legislative support can seek a convention in order to bypass the Legislature.

But Scanlan said he’s not aware of any organized campaign either for or against a convention this time.

If a majority of voters supported holding the convention, a subsequent election would be held to select delegates. A three-fifths majority of delegates would be required to pass a constitutional change, which would go into effect if ratified by 60% of statewide voters.

The other question on the Nov. 8 ballot has to do with the rather obscure position of county register of probate.

Read more: How NHPR is covering the 2022 elections in New Hampshire

At one time, these officials helped people navigate the legal processes involving wills, trusts and estates and name changes.

However, legislation in 2011 transferred the duties of the registers of probate to circuit court clerks.  

Registers saw their salary reduced to $100 a year and their duties were eliminated, said Rep. Norm Silber, a Republican from Gilford, who authored this constitutional amendment, which was approved overwhelmingly in the Legislature this past session.

“They have no office, they have no secretary, they have no desk, they have no phone, they have nothing except a title,” Silber said.

A vote in favor of the ballot question is a vote to get rid of these positions, he said. A two-thirds margin of support is required for approval.

“All it is is a housekeeping measure to eliminate an obsolete provision in the constitution.”

He said that if the measure is approved, existing registers of probate would likely serve out their two-year terms, and there would be no further elections for that position.

Jeremy LaPlante of Keene, the Democratic incumbent in this office in Cheshire County, is running unopposed. He did not immediately return calls for comment Tuesday.

State Sen. James Gray, a Republican from Rochester, favors retaining the register of probate position and enhancing its responsibilities.

He said they used to serve an important role by helping consumers better understand the probate process.

Now consumers can call in to a court phone bank to try to get questions answered.

“You never get the same person twice, kind of thing,” he said. “They are not as familiar with the probate process as the registers were at one time and it affects people who are trying to go through the process pro se [without an attorney]."

He said legislation has been introduced over the last 10 years to restore some of the duties that were removed from registers, but these bills haven’t advanced.

“You have to restore some of those duties to the register of probate so that if you are someone who loses someone close to you, you have a person you can go into, talk to and give you answers to process-based, not legal questions,” Gray said.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information 

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