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Judge rejects claim by group of Democrats that partisan gerrymandering of N.H. districts violates constitution

Sara Ernst
In the plaintiff's court filing, they alleged the new maps make districts "remarkably uncompetitive."

A New Hampshire Superior Court judge is dismissing a lawsuit filed by a group of local Democrats challenging the newly drawn district boundaries for State Senate and Executive Council, ruling that the state constitution gives lawmakers wide authority to control the redistricting process.

The plaintiffs, including former New Hampshire House Speaker Terie Norelli, alleged that 16 of the 24 Senate seats were drawn to favor Republican candidates, giving the party an advantage that could result in a veto-proof supermajority. The lawsuit, filed in May, also claimed the districts drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature give the GOP an advantage in four out of five executive council races.

In a ruling released Wednesday, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn sided with Secretary of State David Scanlan, who was named as the defendant due to his role as the state’s chief election officer. Colburn wrote that the power to draw districts, as outlined in the state constitution, lies in the hands of lawmakers, leaving the courts limited oversight. She also cited previous precedent stating that political considerations in drawing maps are “tolerated” and courts must tread lightly in this area.

In an eight-page decision, Colburn wrote, “if the citizens of this State intended to require the legislature to meet additional criteria in drawing legislative and executive council districts, they would have explicitly provided those requirements alongside the existing ones in Part II of the constitution.”

It isn’t clear if the plaintiffs will appeal the ruling.

Norelli was also part of a separate lawsuit challenging the population disparities in the state’s two congressional districts following the 2020 census. After Republicans in the Legislature failed to pass a new set of maps that had the support of Gov. Chris Sununu, the state Supreme Court ultimately stepped in to balance the districts to reflect population changes, moving five small towns from the 1st District into the 2nd District.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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