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New Hampshire Senate approves Executive Council map

A photo of protesters outside of the State House. Their signs read: NH voters demand fair maps, Does the GOP have to cheat to win, GOP maps don't pass the smell test.
Gabrielle Healy
/
New Hampshire Public Radio
Protesters showed up outside the State House last week to oppose GOP-drawn maps.

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Senate on Thursday approved new district boundaries for the Executive Council, the obscure but powerful five-member body that approves nominations and contracts.

The Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee had recommended maintaining the existing districts because the population hasn’t shifted enough in the last decade to require redistricting. But the full Senate voted 12-10 to send a proposal offered by Republican Sen. James Gray to the House. The vote was largely along party lines, though Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, joined Democrats in opposing it.

Republicans currently hold a 4-1 advantage on the council, with the only Democrat representing District 2, a narrow band that stretches from the Vermont border to the seacoast. Critics have long cited it as an example of gerrymandering, the practice of drawing districts for maximum partisan advantage at the expense of community unity.

Gray, R-Rochester, said his plan addresses that complaint by keeping District 2 to the western edge of the state while also reducing the population variation among the districts.

“If you try to get that population closer, the map starts to get ugly, some people equate that with gerrymandering,” he said. “This map is a good map.”

Democrats argued that Gray’s proposal would actually make both Districts 1 and 2 gerrymandered seats. They unsuccessfully offered an amendment they said would result in five competitive districts.

“We have two very different maps. One that has lines that go all over the place, and one that is cleaner, neater, sharper and more in keeping with what the citizens of New Hampshire asked us to do,” said Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester. “We owe it to them to deliver a final product that truly represents what our state is like.”

Although Executive Council races tend to be low-profile, members hold significant power in approving state agency heads, judges and state contracts. In the last year, they have delayed funding for vaccine outreach and blocked funding for family planning clinics.

Lawmakers also have been working on new maps for state Legislative districts and U.S. House seats. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu on Wednesday signed into law new boundaries for the 400 House seats. He has said he will veto the Congressional district map passed by lawmakers, however.

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