EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 31, 2012

Floterial districts are back in Granite State

By Dustin Luca dluca@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — When Hampstead voters cast their ballots for state representative Nov. 6, some may do a double-take.

All residents now belong in two separate House districts — 13, in which four lawmakers will be elected, and 34, which will send one representative to Concord.

They won’t be alone.

There are seven so-called floterial districts in Rockingham County, 43 throughout the state. Districts in the immediate area include:

District 33, including Brentwood, Danville, and Fremont; District 34, including Atkinson, Hampstead, Kingston and Plaistow; and District 35, including East Kingston, Kensington, Newton and South Hampton.

Floterial districts exist “for the towns to have its own representation, and it also accounts for the principle of ‘one man, one vote,’” Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said.

Floterial districts used to be common in New Hampshire, but, in 2002, the state Supreme Court redistricted the state into 88 districts, removing all floterial districts.

The court found the use of floterial districts was unconstitutional, Scanlan said. That changed again in 2006 when voters OK’d a constitutional amendment to restore them to constitutionality. Today, with the 2010 census shifting lines prior to the primary election in September, the floterial districts are back.

So far, it appears most voters aren’t aware of the changes.

If anyone in Hampstead does ask, Town Clerk Tricia Curran tells them “that it’s from the state redistricting. We have four representatives among two towns, and then there’s one representative who’s going to represent four towns.”

She says “if” because nobody has asked.

“Nobody’s questioning it or has even asked about it,” she said.

Atkinson Town Clerk Rose Cavalear said it’s the same in her town.

“Even when they’re voting absentee, nobody asks questions about it,” she said. “I’m thinking we’re going to get more questions on the (constitutional amendment) questions on the ballot.”

The change pitted two incumbent representatives against one another in the GOP primary in September.

Rep. Jeffrey Oligny, R-Plaistow, and Rep. Marie Sapienza, R-Plaistow, squared off last month for the lone House seat in District 34.

Sapienza lost. She said she ran in the race because “running in that district, even if I lost, would still retain the maximum number of Republican seats” in the House.

“There were two incumbents running on the Republican ticket, and no incumbents running on the Democratic ticket,” she said. “This area historically votes Republican in the general election.”

She lost by 301 votes to Oligny, who now faces Democratic challenger Harlan Cheney in the general election.

“It’s probably safe to say (Sapienza) would have been re-elected if she had run for that district,” Oligny said.

But Sapienza doesn’t blame the redistricting for her loss.

“I don’t think people are aware of it generally, but the unawareness hasn’t impeded anybody’s ability to vote for their representative,” she said. “Generally, people don’t know what the districts are.”