By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
House Republican Leader Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, called on Democrat Speaker Steve Shurtleff, D-Concord, to scrap a proposed plan to purchase electronic voting equipment costing possibly “in excess of $200,000” for when the House reconvenes on June 11th, and seek to be reimbursed by CARES Act funds for that cost.
“I agree that the House should get back to work, but this proposed budget shows poor judgement given the tough times we are facing,” Hinch said. “We’re asking state and local governments to tighten their belts as we deal with revenue losses due to this crisis, and we have businesses, organizations, and families that need assistance.”
The House and Senate announced Friday morning that they will be meeting in person in early June, but will each have to move to larger quarters to maintain CDC guidelines. The House and Senate did not release the letter from the General Court’s Chief Operating Officer Terry Pfaff that details expenses.
The Senate will meet in Representatives Hall and the House will meet at the Whittemore Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
The costs associated with that include rental of venue space, purchase of remote voting tablets, contracting expenses with IRC to stand up remote voting, and sound equipment rental, according to a letter from Terry Pfaff, the General Court’s Chief Operations Officer to House and Senate leaders.
The General Court has also tracked unbudgeted expenses related to COVID-19 of about $73,000. That includes $40,000 for professional disinfection of State House and Legislative Office Building, $18,072 for laptops for remote work and $13,000 for infectious disease consultant fees.
Shurtleff responded to Hinch’s criticism in a press release that the House has made an investment in its future with the purchase of the remote voting devices.
“These devices will be used to finish out this session and then can be used again should the House need to hold another remote legislative session for any reason or future emergency,” Shurtleff said.
“In addition, they can be configured to be used in committees, potentially allowing the House to update committee votes in real time. This system also ties directly into our present voting system so Granite Staters who wish to know how their representatives are voting can still see that information in real time preserving the transparency of our proceedings,” Shurtleff said.
Hinch said: “Spending in excess of $200,000 on handheld voting devices and other equipment for legislators instead of spending those dollars where it’s really needed seems insensitive, to say the least.
“The House operated for a century without any electronic voting gizmo and spending this amount at this time is blatantly wasteful considering CARES Act money could go somewhere where it is needed more. We need to get back to work, and we need to pursue the safest, and most economical way to do the people’s business, not the flashiest.”