Testimony before Election Law Committee

Ethan Moorehouse of Manchester, operations director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, testifies in support of a constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they are going to turn 18 before the general election.

CONCORD — A proposed constitutional amendment to allow 17-year-olds to vote in New Hampshire primary elections if they are on track to turn 18 before the upcoming general election was widely endorsed at a State House public hearing on Wednesday.

Currently, 21 states allow 17-year-olds to vote under such circumstances.

“What matters here is encouraging young people to be active voters,” said Liz Tentarelli, president of the New Hampshire League of Women Voters.

“They are paying attention to politics. They have issues that they feel are important to them, and it’s not just the Parkland school shooting, after which we saw a lot of students registering to vote, but other issues as well.”

New Hampshire Democratic Party Operations Director Ethan Moorehouse, 20, recalled his own experience as a 17-year-old who was active as a volunteer for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary.

He urged members of the House Election Law Committee to recommend the bill to the Legislature, where it would have to pass both House and Senate by two-thirds margins before going before voters in the fall.

“I was disheartened to know that despite all the hard work I put into a campaign, I wouldn’t be able to participate in the (primary) voting process, even though I would’ve been 18 by the general election in November,” he said.

“I wasn’t alone in this frustration. A large part of the work I did on the campaign was organizing high school students. Quickly, I learned that students questioned why they should get involved in the Democratic process if they weren’t able to voice their opinion by voting. Every day I would encounter students who refused to learn about the candidates, never mind volunteer for one because they knew their voices wouldn’t matter.”

The proposed constitutional amendment was also endorsed by the N.H. League of Women Voters and several other speakers. No one spoke in opposition.

Special elections

The committee also heard testimony on a bill that would require local officials to schedule special elections when a state representative leaves office or dies, rather than allow the seat to remain vacant until the next general election as current law permits.

“Many folks don’t realize that a town or city government must first petition the governor and executive council in order to have a special election when their state rep. dies, resigns or is removed,” said Bonnie Wright of Salem in arguing for the bill.

“If the select board or aldermen don’t want an election, even if some of the townspeople want one, the town or city government can refuse to give permission for this to take place.”

In 2017, Salem saw three of its nine representative seats go vacant, with no special elections scheduled to fill the seats for the rest of 2017 and all of 2018.

“Salem ended the biennium woefully under-represented,” she said. “That is undemocratic and it is unfair.”

She cited similar circumstances in Hudson and Wolfeboro. All told, five vacancies that could have been filled by special election were left vacant for much of the legislative term.

“This bill will ensure that no citizen will have the right to a special election stolen from them by their town government,” she said.

Local officials often cite the cost of special elections in their rationale for waiting until the next general election, but no one testified against the bill.