Voters casting their ballot on Election Day may be surprised to find two constitutional questions at the end. Since there has been little publicity about them and the voter’s guide prepared by the secretary of state is not widely distributed, I’d like to weigh in because I have a particular interest in both questions.
The first merely asks if you favor electing the county treasurer, county attorney, sheriff, and register of deeds. This seems puzzling because you have already voted for these officers just above. What the proposal doesn’t make clear is that the register of probate has been dropped from the list.
In 2016, I was elected Rockingham County register of probate on a platform of doing away with this office. The legislature in 2011 had reorganized the district, family, and probate courts into the circuit court, eliminating over 50 positions and saving $3 million annually. In the process it transferred the duties of the register of probate to a court clerk, leaving the register with a title but no responsibilities, no office, no desk, no phone, and no computer. Because it was in the constitution, the title and position could not be removed by legislation.
Over the next 10 years, there were attempts to restore the duties to the elected register, but all failed because it just didn’t make sense to have an official of the state court system be part of county government paid through local property taxes and who may know nothing about the job
We have had five elections since the position of register of probate was stripped of its duties. It’s time to eliminate this vestige of the past. The House and the Senate voted overwhelmingly to ask the voters to amend the constitution to delete all references to this office. Please vote “yes” on question 1 to eliminate this do-nothing job.
The second question asks if there should be a convention to revise or amend the state constitution. This wasn’t proposed by the legislature; it is required to be placed on the ballot every 10 years. The idea was that while the legislature may propose amendments at any time, there may be issues that the public wants but legislators balk at. A constitutional convention could consider such matters and propose amendments to the voters.
I was a delegate to the last constitutional convention in 1984, and while it was a fascinating and educational experience, I see no need to incur the expense of another one. Four hundred delegates would have to be elected, paid mileage, and supported by professional staff. The legislature can propose amendments at any state election as long as three-fifths of the members agree. That high threshold assures only matters of broad agreement actually get presented to the voters. I don’t know of any subjects that the legislature hasn’t already considered that would justify the creation and expense of a constitutional convention. I’ll be voting “no” on question 2.