Loophole allows Rollo to run for county commissioner from outside her district

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Strafford County Commissioner Chair George Maglaras and Commissioner Deanna Rollo at Tuesday's Ballot Law Commission hearing in Concord (Cliff Newton photos)

CONCORD - They say the devil's in the details, and that was never more true than on Tuesday when an error of omission enabled two candidates running for Strafford County commissioner to run in a district where they do not reside.
Current county commissioner Deanna Rollo and commissioner hopeful Sean Leavitt, who both live in District 2, are running in District 3, which prompted lifelong District 3 resident and District 3 candidate Cliff Newton, a Republican, to file a complaint with the Ballot Law Commission last week.
On Tuesday they voted 4-1 to uphold the Secretary of State's position allowing Rollo, a Democrat; and Leavitt, a Republican, to run in District 3.

District 6 Sen. Jim Gray, R-Rochester, testifies at Ballot Law Commission on Tuesday. Looking on is State Rep Joe Pitre, R-Farmington

While it may seem unfair on the face of it, the ruling was unavoidable given the language of the statute that governs Strafford County elections.
Here's why.
Even though recently passed GOP bill HB75 changed the voting for county commissioners from at large to by district, a move aimed at breaking the stranglehold of decades of Democrat control, a failure to amend the statute left the Ballot Law Commission with no choice but to deny the challenge.
The statute reads:
"To hold the office of county commissioner, sheriff, county attorney, county treasurer, register of deeds, or register of probate, a person must have a domicile in the county for which he is chosen. In addition, to hold the office of county commissioner in the counties of Rockingham, Belknap, Grafton, Merrimack, Hillsborough, Cheshire, Sullivan, Coos, and Carroll, a person must have a domicile in the district from which he is elected at the time of his election."
While they denied Newton's appeal, the Ballot Law Commission agreed that the intent of the bill as passed by the Legislature was not being followed, which buoyed the five-term state rep.
"I was encouraged by some in attendance to take it to the state's Supreme Court, because that court may be more amenable to following what the intent of the legislature was," Newton told The Rochester Voice today. "If constituents keep coming to me, I will have to contemplate such a move."
Assistant Atty. Gen. Kevin Scura said the BLC had no standing to rule in such a case.
"You do have to live in the county; but you do not want to live in the district. It is not a debate," Scura told the BLC.
Commissioner Bob Letourneau of Ashland, a former GOP state senator, cast the lone vote seeking to approve Newton's appeal.
"This is about as clear as mud in my opinion," Letourneau said. "Let's give the people of Strafford County District 3 a voice from somebody that lives in the district."
Newton was resigned to the ruling but incredulous nonetheless.
"It still boggles the mind that a candidate can run for a district she didn't want to live in as Scura said," Newton said.
Newton also said Rep Bob Lynn, R-Windham, told the BLC that there could be unintended consequences based on the ruling, arguing that the law of vacancy could be used to force Rollo out of office if she wins, because according to state statute, once elected, office holders have to live in the district they represent.
Despite frustration with Tuesday's decision, Newton remains upbeat.
"I left feeling good," he said. "Because I'm doing everything I can do for my constituents, but the point we were trying to make is the intent of the legislature is known. No one on the BLC disputed that."

Meanwhile, Strafford County Commissioner Chair George Maglaras is running in District 2, his home district, while current commissioner Robert Watson is not seeking re-election.
Newton will square off with Leavitt in a GOP primary on Sept. 10.
Leavitt has not been available for comment.

Republicans are expected to bring back HB 75 next year to make the necessary tweaks.

Here is a breakdown of the districts

• District 1, the towns of Farmington, Middleton, Milton, New Durham,
wards 1, 5, and 6, of the city of Rochester, and wards 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the
city of Somersworth;
• District 2, wards 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the city of Dover, and the towns of
Durham, Lee, and Rollinsford; and
• District 3, Barrington, wards 5 and 6 of the city of Dover, Madbury, wards
2, 3, and 4 of the city of Rochester, and the town of Strafford.

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