WTH Portsmouth?

When the word came last week that the Portsmouth city charter had been changed to reflect a filing deadline for November elections of the first Tuesday in June, people were miffed – and rightfully so. It seems that a whole lot of folks were asleep at the wheel.

Portsmouth asked the General Assembly to make a number of charter changes as the result of a review by the William B. Spong Charter Review Commission.  In addition, the city wanted to remove the requirement that a member resign his or her seat to run for another office, as was the case when council member Elizabeth Psimas had to resign in order to run for mayor. Finally, the council wanted to move the council elections to November. (See docs below)

It was this last part that was a problem.

When the city’s charter was revised in 2011, the first draft filed with the General Assembly did not include a change to November elections or a reference to a filing deadline of the first Tuesday in June. The changes came in a substitute bill approved in a committee chaired by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth.

The charter now includes the language (emphasis added):

Any person whose name has been submitted for candidacy by petition as herein provided, shall file his or her acceptance of such candidacy with the general registrar of the city not later than the time fixed for the closing of the polls on the first Tuesday in June of the year of the election, otherwise that name shall not appear on the ballot.

Except primaries are held the second Tuesday in June, not the first Tuesday.

Yesterday, we learned that an informal opinion of the attorney general had been obtained and that the earlier date would apply. Candidates who had not filed by June 5 would not be allowed on the ballot.

This is a mess. From where I sit, it seems a legal challenge is appropriate. Yes, the candidates should have read the charter and noticed the earlier date. And yes, the candidates shouldn’t have waited until the last minute to turn in petitions. But if the registrar didn’t know and the standard is the second Tuesday, then there has to be a way to correct this – for this election.

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