Are New Hampshire's redrawn electoral districts fair?
By: LFDA Editor
New Hampshire, like all other states, must redraw its electoral districts every 10 years, making adjustment as dictated by the population and demographic shifts tabulated in the U.S. Census. In additon to districts for U.S. House, districts and wards for the New Hampshire House, Senate, and Governor's Executive Council were redrawn by the Legislature in 2012.
There wasn't any disagreement on the congressional districts. The 1st Congressional District includes the area along the Maine border and into the Seacoast region. The 2nd CD encompasses the southwestern part of the state and runs up along the Vermont border and into the North Country.
But, especially for the reapportionment of state House seats, there was significant disagreement.
The terms of a 2006 ballot initiative stated: "When the population of any town or ward, according to the last federal census, is within a reasonable deviation from the ideal population for one or more representative seats, the town or ward shall have its own district of one or more representative seats."
The Republican-controlled Legislature came up with plans for the state House, Senate and Executive Council. While the Senate and Executive Council met with everyone's approval, including the governor's, the House plan met some headwinds.
In January 2012, the House voted 205-86 to approve HB 592
, the Republican leadership's plan for its new districts; it was approved by the Senate.
But Democratic Gov. John Lynch, while signing off on the other plans, vetoed the House redistricting plan, saying it disenfranchised communities that should have received their own House reps. The House and Senate Republican majorities were enough to override the veto.
Opposition didn't stop there. Several groups, including some cities and towns, challenged the House redistricting plan in court for many of the same reasons cited by Lynch in his veto message. The cases were consolidated and fast-tracked to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
The high court on June 19, 2012 ruled unanimously that the House plan did not violate the constitution. The ruling said it is the Legislature’s decision.
“The legislature had a choice to make: adhere to the 10 percent rule and give fewer towns, wards and places their own districts or exceed the 10 percent rule and give more towns, wards and places their own districts. This is a policy decision reserved to the Legislature,” the Justices wrote.
Redistricting, in general, has a history of becoming very political, with the party in power redrawing lines in their favor. That is where the term "gerrymandering"
Sen. David Pierce
(D-Etna) sponsored SB 314, a 2014 bill establishing an independent commission to recommend a redistricting plan every 10 years. Currently the Legislature drafts its own redistricting bills. The bill was sent to a study committee for further review.
Rep. Charlene Takesian
(R-Pelham) sponsored HB 1347, a 2014 bill which establishes a committee to determine if the most recent redistricting complies with the New Hampshire constitution, and to recommend any remedies to the legislature. The bill was ruled inexpedient to legislate in the House.
Do you think the redistricting in New Hampshire was too politicized? Is your community one that benefited -- or, in your view, suffered -- as a result of the districts?