Adding a mind-bending twist to what has already been a wild election ride for Nashua voters would be this scenario:
Depending on how the state Attorney General's office defines the language of a state voting statute, it's feasible that Stacie Laughton and ex-wife Lisa Laughton, who both served time in jail for a felony conviction, could preside as ward selectmen over the special election required to fill the State Representative seat being vacated by Stacie Laughton.
Confusing? Yes, said City Clerk Paul Bergeron, who has been wading through the state's election law looking for answers since this unusual case took shape over the weekend.
On Tuesday Laughton, a newly elected state rep in District 31, announced she would resign – that decision came, after several days of controversy following a Laconia Daily Sun story published Nov. 23 chronicling Laughton's past, including a felony conviction and jail time.
Laughton, who is transgender and identifies as a female, was convicted in 2008 of conspiracy to commit credit card fraud under the name Barry C. Laughton Jr., while living in Laconia as a man.
Bergeron now awaits clarification from the state Attorney General's office on this passage of the statute, which reads in part:
A person sentenced for a felony, from the time of his sentence until his final discharge, may not:
- (a) Vote in an election, but if execution of sentence is suspended with or without the defendant being placed on probation or he is paroled after commitment to imprisonment, he may vote during the period of the suspension or parole; or
- (b) Become a candidate for or hold public office.
"The language of RSA NH RSA 607-A:2:1 needs defining – I can't find anything in New Hampshire state law defining the terms term 'final discharge' as it applies to this particular situation," Bergeron said Wednesday morning. "Other states do define the term, and not always in the same manner, and so we have to figure out what our interpretation is."
Bergeron said he has found that some state's define "final discharge" as the end of imprisonment, probation or parole. The grey area in Laughton's case is that, while she fulfilled the terms of her sentence and completed probation in 2010 for one of three felony charges, the other two sentences were suspended, pending 10 years of good behavior.
Depending on how the New Hampshire statute is interpreted will determine whether Stacie and Lisa Laughton, who were elected via write-in campaigns as Ward 4 selectmen, can continue to serve as selectmen.
If the AG determines that they were ineligible to hold elected office, then they will be replaced by appointment prior to the special election. That is also the determination which would nullify Laughton's election as a state representative, which was called into question Tuesday by an unnamed party, who filed an election law complaint with Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Brown.
Brown said Tuesday that the case is a complicated one, and that he would continue to review the case, including court documents from Belknap County court, where Laughton was convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud.
Another point of order is when the State Rep vacancy can be declared, Bergeron said.
"Stacie Laughton will have to deliver a letter of resignation to the Secretary of State's office. However, since her term of office hasn't begun yet, I'm not sure when the vacancy is declared – that may not be until the start of the term, which would be in January," Bergeron said.
Once a letter is accepted by the Secretary of State, Nashua's Board of Aldermen would send a request to the governor's office to have a special election to fill the vacancy. That request would be fielded at the next regularly scheduled Executive Council meeting, which officially puts in motion the special election process.
If more than one candidate files for the open seat for each party, then a primary election would be necessary, Bergeron said.
"All of this could carry us right into the spring," Bergeron said. "On our end, it's a difference of a few weeks, whether the Board of Aldermen can ask for a special election in December of January. One way or another, that will happen within the next 2 to 6 weeks."