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Redistricting Tangle Pushes Forward

Sam Evans-Brown
Chairman Mirski addresses the house committee on redistricting


The redistricting of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives is proving to be very tricky.

The Republican leadership proposed a new map this week, and critiques are rolling in.

Redistricting is never particularly easy; representatives tend to like the districts that elected them.

And considering that the right to re-draw the political map is a spoil that goes to the victors of the last election cycle, partisan friction is inevitable.

But this time around, redistricting has gotten very complicated.

The US Supreme Court has a principal called “one man, one vote,” that says each district should have about the same amount of people in it, give or take five percent.

And in 2006 New Hampshire amended its constitution to say that each town that has enough people to have its own rep, should get one.

On top of all that republicans are moving forward with a plan to redistrict the state through an order instead of a bill, meaning the plan would bypass the governor entirely.

Now using those rules, divide the state into districts for 400 representatives, and good luck.

Republican lawmakers – Representatives Vaillancourt, Bowers, and Cohn – have been spending hours and hours to trying to draw maps that work, and bits of each of their plans wound up in the final proposal that came out of republican leadership this week.

Representative Seth Cohn calls the exercise New Hampshire Sudoku, and says the problem is the state isn’t laid out in a nice, rational grid.

Cohn: Take my town for instance, Canterbury is too small to get a rep, but it’s surrounded entirely on all sides by towns that are big enough to get their own, there is no legal way with the way the amendment is worded, to grant all three towns to grant all three towns, Northfield, Loudon, and Boscawen their own rep first, and then deal with Canterbury.

So it’s complicated.

And to get to a map that more or less works legally and mathematically, republicans had to put together some districts that don’t follow traditional boundaries.

For example, under the current plan Hopkinton is lumped in together with Concord ward 5 in a three seat district.

It was a sticking point at the public in a hearing on Thursday.

Former House rep Jessie Osborne, a democrat, said that towns and cities should not be in the same district, because their voters don’t share the same interests.

Osborne: If this plan is passed as it is now constituted, I will personally be a member of a lawsuit saying that the city of Concord ward 5 citizens are not being fairly represented.

Osborne was not the only one on hand to complain about the new plan.

State democrats say that the republican’s way is not the only way.

 They support a plan put forward by progressive advocacy group America Votes.

The plan involves weighted voting, which corrects for the over-represented towns by making votes cast in those towns count as somewhat less than one vote.

Democrats say this gets around the constitutional problems, and results in many more single town districts.

Committee republicans have dismissed that plan, on the grounds that the concept is too arcane.

Democrats, like David Peirce who’s the ranking minority member of the committee, counter that top republicans only seem interested in plans from their party.

Peirce: if you look at the committee website there are dozens of plans that are listed on there that people the public have submitted, the point is that nobody had any input onto the plan that’s gonna pass.

Democrats also take issue with how long it’s taken the republican leadership to produce a plan.

Pierce says that something doesn’t jibe with the republicans’ explanation that they haven’t been able to produce a map until now.

The redistricting process is inherently partisan, and with any plan, malcontents are inevitable.

Republican Seth Cohn, who will get many of his tweaks into the final map, puts it this way.

Cohn: Like it or not, this is the best of all possible bad choices.

Whether or not that’s the case redistricting is likely, once again, to wind up in court.

Particularly if House Republicans follow through with plans to redistrict the legislature without any involvement by the governor.

That move would be unprecedented.


Sam Evans-Brown has been working for New Hampshire Public Radio since 2010, when he began as a freelancer. He shifted gears in 2016 and began producing Outside/In, a podcast and radio show about “the natural world and how we use it.” His work has won him several awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow awards, one national Murrow, and the Overseas Press Club of America's award for best environmental reporting in any medium. He studied Politics and Spanish at Bates College, and before reporting was variously employed as a Spanish teacher, farmer, bicycle mechanic, ski coach, research assistant, a wilderness trip leader and a technical supporter.

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