Early History

The state Senate was established when the New Hampshire Constitution became effective on June 2, 1784.

Originally, the state constitution called for twelve senators to be elected to one-year terms from the five counties existing at the time: one senator from Grafton County; two from Strafford County; two from Hillsborough County; two from Cheshire County; and five from Rockingham County. The proportion of taxes raised, not population, determined representation in these counties. In 1792, districts were created to take the place of county representation with each district electing one senator. (per Article 26)

To be eligible to run for Senate, a candidate had to be at least 30 years of age, a property owner and a Protestant, have lived in New Hampshire for at least seven years immediately preceding the election, and have resided in the district from which the candidate was seeking election. The property-ownership rule was eliminated in 1852, as was the Protestant requirement in 1877. While there was no specific prohibition on women serving in the Senate, their eligibility to run for the Senate was the result of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In the beginning, elections took place in March, and the Legislature met annually starting in June. Only male citizens age 21 years or older who paid their own poll tax were eligible to vote.

In 1877, the constitution was amended, doubling the number of senators to 24 and the term of office to two years and creating the current 24 districts we have. (In 1974, the voters of New Hampshire rejected a proposal to increase the size of the Senate to 36 members). It was not until 1964, however, that Senate districts would be based on population. Prior to 1968, the Senate always filled its own vacancies, but, thereafter, a constitutional amendment required that all vacancies be filled by special elections.

Constitutional Provisions

The state constitution provides that the Senate may elect its own officers and other leaders, including the Senate president. Initially a quorum consisted of seven senators, but since 1877 when the body was increased to 24 members, a quorum has been defined as 13 senators.

The Senate is also vested with the power to conduct impeachment proceedings brought by the House against elected officials and officers of the state of New Hampshire. Charges are limited to acts of bribery, corruption, malpractice or maladministration committed while in office. However, the Senate can only go so far as to remove the official from office or deny them the ability to hold a place of honor, trust, or profit from the state. Should the governor be impeached, the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides over the Senate proceedings but has no vote.

In the fall of 2000, the Senate held the only impeachment trial in the state’s history when the articles of impeachment were brought against the chief justice of the state Supreme Court by the House of Representatives. In a trial that lasted three weeks in September and October of that year, the Senate voted to acquit the chief justice of the charge of maladministration.

The Modern Senate

After more than 200 years, the New Hampshire General Court remains a “citizen legislature.” As an example of true public service, senators are paid only $100 a year, plus mileage reimbursement for officially related travel. The body is comprised of 24 members from 24 separate districts across the state. All twenty-four Senate districts are based on population; the most recent redistricting occurred in 2012. As New Hampshire’s largest municipalities, the city of Manchester is represented by three different Senators who each also represent adjacent towns, and the city of Nashua is represented by two Senators, one of whom also represents adjacent towns.

The Senate meets annually with sessions beginning in early January and running through the end of June. Like the governor and representatives in the House, senators serve two-year terms and are elected in even-numbered years.