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Redistricting in N.H.: What You Need To Know

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Every 10 years, the New Hampshire Legislature redraws the lines on election maps. Now that the latest 2020 Census data has been released, the process, known as redistricting, will begin again —  this time with a Republican-controlled State House and a Republican governor, for the first time since the 1990s.

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Lawmakers on special redistricting committees in the House and Senate will decide on district maps for the State House, the Executive Council, and New Hampshire’s two congressional districts.

Redistricting is a process that takes place largely out of the public eye, with the elected officials whose political fortunes ride on these maps drawing them. And that, of course, opens up the possibility of gerrymandering.

The gerrymandering of State House maps is tempered by its having 400 members. There are just too many districts to confer that much of a partisan advantage, as well as the state constitutional requirement that towns or wards should get their own representatives to the extent practicable.

But regarding the state Senate and the Executive Council, both history and current political maps show previous Republican efforts to confer political advantage via redistricting have worked. There’s little reason to think those effects won’t intensify with a Republican also holding corner office.

A seat that also stands to be affected by this process is the one now held by Rep. Chris Pappas. He was elected to Congress in a swing district, where the two parties have recently tended to trade control. Republicans, including state Republican Party Chairman Steve Stepanek, have indicated a desire to use redistricting to oust Pappas, a Democrat.

But if the maps are redrawn to guarantee Republicans win in the first district it’s possible that they’ll end up writing off the second district, where incumbent Democrat Ann McLane Kuster is now in her fifth term.

These maps last for five election cycles. Gov. Chris Sununu has said he wants maps that “pass the smell test.” It's unclear what exactly the governor means by the smell test (and when the test will be offered).

Sununu has also vetoed bills to create independent redistricting commissions, which would give fewer partisan appointees lead roles in drawing the political maps.

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts have no role in policing partisan redistricting. The court said partisan political gerrymandering is a political question, not a legal one, unlike gerrymandering along racial lines.

The expected timetable is for lawmakers to work on maps for the next couple of months and get them out of the committee in late fall, so the full House can vote on them in January. The Senate process is less clear but is likely to get underway this fall also.

This post was prepared for the web by Gabrielle Healy.

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