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Special election unlikely for Merrick's seat

December 16, 2009
CONCORD — It is highly unlikely that a special election will be held to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Rep. Scott Merrick of Lancaster, according to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan.

Rep. Merrick's resignation became effective on Monday, Dec. 14.

Two state statutes control the holding of special elections.

The first one states that no special election to fill a vacancy shall be held after March 15 in the second year of a biennium. The House meets on Jan. 6, 2010, in the second year of the biennium. Like all state representatives, all senators and the governor, Rep. Scott Merrick was elected for a two-year term in Nov. 2008. He was sworn in to his third term representing Cos District 2 in early December.

The second relevant statute states that any special election shall be held on a Tuesday no sooner than 80 days and no later than 87 days following a declaration by the Governor and Council that a special election will be held. This translates into an election that would be approximately 11 to 12 weeks after the Governor declares the date.

At this time of year, however, there is an added complication.

Governor and Council met last week on Wednesday, Dec. 9, and no meeting is scheduled until Jan. 13, 2010 — a full month away. On this schedule, the election could not possibly take place before the March 15 deadline.

There are two statutory variables — wild cards — that complicate the situation, however. The statutes call for a primary — if required because more than one candidate in a recognized party signs up to run — to take place 34 days after Gov. and Council declare that a special election will be held.

If, however, a primary is not needed because only a single candidate in each recognized party takes out papers to run, then the special election can be held on that day — 34 days after the declaration — instead of between 80 to 87 days.

The other variable is that if any one of the boards of selectmen in Cos District 2 should request the Governor to go ahead as quickly as possible to set a special election, then Gov. John Lynch could start the clock ticking by convening a special meeting of Gov. and Council at which a date could be date.

Gov. and Council do occasionally hold telephone votes.

Nine towns make up Cos 2: Lancaster, Whitefield, Northumberland, Carroll, Dalton, Stratford, Stark, Jefferson, and Randolph. Any of the boards of selectmen in these towns could vote to send word to the governor.

It is unclear whether of not the Cos County commissioners, who serve as the board of selectmen of the Unincorporated Places, could ask the Governor to call a special election; Cos 2 includes Kilkenny, an Unincorporated Place.

The population of Cos is so small in relation to the other nine counties that it only can field 11 state representatives out of 400. Before Rep. Merrick resigned, seven were Democrats and four Republicans. Now the tally is six Democrats and four Republicans.

"The positive side to not having a special election is that it would save the state and all the towns money from having to hold a special election," former state Rep. Scott Merrick pointed out.

On the down side, Cos is now short one voice in Concord.

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