What election reports mean for the next NH legislative period

Election recounts for the State House races took place in Concord this week and will continue through next week. Recounts take place every election season, but this year, given the tightly divided House of Representatives, the results could be crucial in determining policy and which party will hold a majority in the legislature.

Josh Rogers, senior policy reporter for the NHPR, spoke with All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa about what these results mean for the next legislative session. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

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Julia Furukawa: On election night, the results gave the Republicans 203 seats in the 400-seat New Hampshire House and the Democrats 197. That’s the closest Concord has had in more than 80 years. And the results of these recounts narrow the margin even further. So what happened?

Josh Rogers: Well, while several recounts confirmed Election Night results, there were two that flipped seats won by Republicans on Election Day to Democrats. One was a race in Berlin and the surrounding cities. Another was a contest from Manchester’s Ward 6. And then [on Wednesday], in a race for a Rochester seat won by a single vote by a Republican, David Walker, over Democrat Chuck Grassie. That was now counted as a draw.

Julia Furukawa: So the Secretary of State says if things stay the way they are, the legislature will pick the winner. In this case, that could decide which party controls the house. Is there a precedent for this?

Josh Rogers: Not that I’ve noticed in the past few hours. But, you know, it’s worth emphasizing that it may not come to that. The contested ballots, those are ballots marked by partisan observers – they could be poorly marked or contain crossed-out or incompletely filled ovals. These ballot papers go before the Electoral Rights Commission. These commissioners will evaluate them and then vote on their perception of those voters’ intentions. So you know that changes there can change the results in a tied race pretty easily. And, you know, this story [on Wednesday] is not the last story. More than a dozen are still missing. So, you know, a lot could change before we’re done, inside and outside of these reports.

Julia Furukawa: How do you mean? What else could change?

Josh Rogers: Well, you know, the reports could certainly make a difference. But until the house is in place and members are sworn in, one can’t really be sure. We are talking about a 400-strong citizenship. Sometimes people go to the polls and run as candidates. They do not expect to win, may not truly intend to serve, and thus do not actually join the legislature. Happens. Lawmakers die sometimes. Maybe they get a job that forces them to move. So you know, numbers can jump around a bit. And, you know, in one case, a Democrat [representative] from Nashua, Stacie Laughton, was arrested for stalking last week. I’d say her status in Concord is a bit of a question mark, but whatever happens in and out of these narratives, the house seems poised to be very tightly divided for the next two years.

Julia Furukawa: OK. Now, what does that mean in terms of politics in the next legislature?

Josh Rogers: Well, we’ll see. It will certainly make it difficult for the party that ends up in the majority to pass bills that are perceived as partisan. It will make attendance in the House on meeting days very, very important. I’m also curious to see what kind of coalitions are built around issues. How does Governor Sununu affect the House of Representatives if he so desires, and how does that affect the Senate, which continues to hold a 14-10 Republican majority, and Senate priorities and what happens to the state budget? [It’s] the biggest policy of any legislature [and] will be the first official act. You know, and before we even get to that, who can be elected speaker of the House of Representatives? At this point, there really are a large number of unknowns.

Julia Furukawa: And there are more recounts to complete.

Josh Rogers: Yes. And, you know, it’s certainly worth noting that recounts usually change vote counts a bit, but they don’t often swap seats from one party to another. So, you know, while we still have a few recounts to go, I wouldn’t expect more seats to be changing hands in the next week or so. But you know, given what’s happened so far, I certainly wouldn’t rule that out either.

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