Republicans unexpectedly gain control of N.H. state government

by Thomas Brown | 11/6/20 2:10am

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by Lorraine Liu / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Contrary to earlier projections, New Hampshire Republicans have taken control of both the executive and legislative branches of the New Hampshire government. Republicans will flip the previously Democrat-held New Hampshire state Senate and House of Representatives. The party has also gained control of the state’s Executive Council, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu was reelected for a third term.

These apparent Republican victories contrast with the Granite State’s federal election results: New Hampshire voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president and reelected Democrats Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Rep. Chris Pappas and Rep. Ann McLane Kuster ’78.

Prior to the election, Democrats held a 14-10 majority in the Senate, a 230-157 majority in the House and a 3-2 majority on the Executive Council.

As of press time, 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats have won seats in the Senate, and 213 Republicans and 187 Democrats have won seats in the House, according to the New Hampshire House Clerk. Four Republicans and one Democrat have won seats in the Executive Council, according to state data. The Associated Press has not yet called the fourth Republican seat. 

According to New Hampshire Public Radio, Democrats are planning to call for recounts in three state Senate races — those of Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst, Jeanne Dietsch, D-Peterborough, and Melanie Levesque, D-Brookline — all of whom lost by margins between 200 and 800 votes.

Many had previously expected the New Hampshire legislature to stay blue. On Nov. 2, election prediction site CNalysis predicted that Democrats would “net a few” single-member and multi-member districts in the state’s House, perhaps entering “supermajority territory.” The site also predicted that Democrats would hold all seats flipped in the Senate in 2018, were favored to win one more and might have even flipped three more seats if they had “a better night” than they expected.

It is far from uncommon for the New Hampshire legislature to switch hands. The National Council of State Legislatures called New Hampshire “the nation’s swingiest state,” noting that one or both state chambers have flipped in six of the past eight elections. So far, the New Hampshire legislature is the only state legislature to have either chamber switch party control this Tuesday.

Democratic representative-elect from Grafton 12 and Dartmouth government professor Russell Muirhead thinks that the success of Republicans comes in part from voters’ perception of Sununu’s tenure. Muirhead labeled Sununu as an “extremely strong candidate for the Republican party” who “defied” the example set by President Donald Trump with regard to the ongoing global pandemic.

“[New Hampshire voters] not only voted for [Sununu], they voted for Republicans up and down [the ballot] for state offices all around. We had very, very long coattails,” Muirhead said.

In contrast, Muirhead cites Trump as the reason why New Hampshire voted for Democrats for federal offices.

“I think Donald Trump drove a whole bunch of people who are willing to vote Republican out of that column at the federal level,” Muirhead said. “They didn’t want Trump supporters in Congress. They didn’t want Trump supporters in the Senate. And they didn’t want Trump in the presidency.”

New Hampshire Republicans claimed victory on Wednesday, about a day before official results were confirmed. At 1 a.m. on Wednesday, the New Hampshire GOP tweeted their projected victory in the Senate and by 9 a.m. had claimed victory in the House. Sununu, in addition to individual members of the legislature, also declared victory.

“I am pleased that Granite State voters rejected the DC style politics that had crept into the State House these last two years,” Sununu tweeted Wednesday afternoon. “I am excited to get to work with our new Republican majorities to deliver results for the people of this state.”

Dartmouth Democrats president Emery Rheam ’22 said that the change in Executive Council control would likely have important implications for Democrats. Rheam said that while blue, the body, which approves government contracts and nominations made by the governor, has blocked attempts by Sununu to appoint state Attorney General Gordon MacDonald as Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court. She noted that MacDonald does not “have judicial experience and is pretty explicitly anti-choice when it comes to women’s reproductive rights.”

“As a woman, that’s frightening and disappointing,” Rheam said.

Although Republicans may have secured majorities for the next two years, their access to redistricting, which will occur in 2021, will have consequences that will extend throughout the 2020s. Other policies to be addressed by the Republican majority will likely include further tax cuts, with Sununu stating on Election Day that he will look at reducing business taxes.

Two days after the election, New Hampshire Public Radio reported many districts as having 100% of precincts reporting, yet many have not called a winner. Hanover town clerk Betsy McClain said could be due to delays in district-conducted verifications that have yet to be sent to the Secretary of State. 

McClain explained that each district must submit a “Moderator’s Worksheet” to the state to provide a three-count verification of the numbers of ballots cast to ensure that there is “no significant difference” between ballot tallies. Hanover’s Moderator’s Worksheet, for example, lists 7,178 “ballots cast,” 7,188 “voters at check-in” and 7,162 “voters at check-out,” McClain said, a result that she believes are “in a reasonable margin of error” considering the “human intervention” required for this election.

Due to the fact that New Hampshire was allowed to process absentee ballots before Election Day, McClain is “very, very doubtful” that the delay in official results is due to any additional time that would be needed to count all votes.

“My sense is the Secretary of State wants to see the same sort of reconciliation from all jurisdictions before calling the office,” she said.

The Moderator’s Worksheet stipulates that moderators submit the document to their town or ward clerks within 48 hours of the closing of the polls.

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