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Democrats sue to block new district maps for Executive Council, N.H. Senate

People urging lawmakers to draw fair redistricting maps hold signs outside of the State House late last month
Amanda Gokee
New Hampshire Bulletin
People urging lawmakers to draw fair redistricting maps hold signs outside of the State House late last month

Redistricting maps for New Hampshire’s Executive Council and the state Senate were signed into law late last week by Gov. Chris Sununu, but they’re already facing a legal challenge.

A lawsuit filed Friday in Hillsborough County Superior Court argues the new maps compromise “fundamental rights to free and equal election, equal protections and free speech and associations.”

The plaintiffs, including the president of the Dartmouth College Democrats and former Democratic House Speaker Terie Norelli, are asking the court to block the maps, which they argue were “enacted with impermissible partisan intent – specifically, to prevent Democratic voters from fairly and equally participating in the political process,” and replace them with districts “that comply with the New Hampshire Constitution.”

This lawsuit has the backing of the National Redistricting Foundation, which is also assisting in a separate suit now before the New Hampshire Supreme Court, filed by an overlapping group of plaintiffs, which challenges the potential use of the state's existing congressional districts in 2022.

With majorities in the state House and Senate, Republicans have largely controlled the redistricting process this year. The effort to redraw the lines for New Hampshire’s two congressional districts has dominated public discussion. Republicans have proposed and passed maps that would make it easier for GOP candidates to win in the state’s First District. The fight has drawn in Sununu, who promised to veto the first GOP-drawn map over concerns that it was “imbalanced” and criticized the second map, which aims to build a district around Interstate-93 and cleared the House last week.

Both the new state Senate and Executive Council maps, as passed, would also confer political advantages to Republicans.

The five-district Executive Council map creates four districts that tilt Republican, and a single sprawling Democratic district that includes Keene, Concord, and the Upper Valley.

The Senate map meanwhile, features 16 districts that clearly favor Republicans and eight that would advantage Democrats.

“Republicans can attain overwhelming control of the Senate and Executive Council even if they amass less than half of the statewide vote,” the lawsuit argues. “Meanwhile, just to win a bare majority of districts under either plan, Democrats must amass well more than half of the statewide vote.”

Absent the court blocking these maps, critics say voters will be saddled with unfair maps for a decade.

“Gov. Sununu told the people of New Hampshire that he would not sign gerrymandered maps into law,” said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “Politicians have handpicked their own voters and are ignoring the will of the people of this state.”

No date has been set for a hearing in this case. The state Supreme Court ruled last week that lawmakers have until May 26 to settle congressional redistricting. After that, the court’s special master in the case will release a map.

Oral arguments in the congressional case are scheduled for May 31. The timing will be tight: The filing period for candidates opens June 1.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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