CONCORD (Reuters) – Republicans at New Hampshire’s House Redistricting Committee on Thursday backed a proposal to radically reshape the state’s two congressional districts, pushing back Democrats’ concerns that the proposed map would make congressional campaigns less competitive.
In a 40-minute town hall, Democratic representatives challenged Republicans over the unusual shape of the proposed map, which would wrap a Democrat-favoring claw-shaped district around a Republicans-favoring cluster district.
Some Republican officials said the new map would help consolidate some towns along the Massachusetts border. Others said they were not involved in the map drawing process, but supported the map project.
And one of them, Rep. Bob Lynn, walked through the debate with a straightforward statement. “If your question is: were political considerations something that was in the mix? Of course they were, ”said Lynn, a Windham Republican and former chief justice of the state Supreme Court.
Lynn added, “This is a political process, as the Supreme Court has said on several occasions, both the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. It is a political process. That is why the Legislative Assembly is doing it. Was this something that was taken into account? Of course it was.
The remarks came at the start of what is likely to be a fierce political battle as lawmakers from both parties argue over how to draw fair maps of Congress – and what fairness means in the first place.
The Republicans map, released Wednesday night, would move a number of key Republican-leaning cities that are currently in Congressional 2nd District – the Western District represented by Annie Kuster – to Congressional 1st District, represented by Chris Pappas.
These towns include Hudson, Salem and Windham, three regions with a strong Republican tendency. The liberal strongholds of Dover and Durham would be moved to the 2nd Congressional District.
The result, critics say, are two congressional constituencies that are more partisan than they are now, based on historic voting patterns. According to the proposal, the 2nd Congressional District would be strongly Democratic – voting 17.3% more Democratic than the state as a whole – and the 1st Congressional District would slightly favor Republicans, voting 1.8% more Republican than the The state as a whole, according to Open Democracy Action, an anti-gerrymandering group.
The proposed card would move 365,703 people in total from one district to another, the group added.
And the plan would be a major historic change. The current map has hardly changed since 1883; In the 138 years since then, lawmakers have moved a total of 22 cities between districts, according to Open Democracy Action. Under the proposed plan, 75 cities would be transferred in one year, or 25% of all cities in the state.
The publication of the Republican proposal is the first step in a process. This map and additional maps proposed by the committee to allocate the 400 seats in the New Hampshire House will be submitted to a hearing next Tuesday. Cards must be approved by the House.
But Democrats and fair vote advocates have already brought charges of gerrymandering, arguing that the new map is designed to divide the two districts between Republican and Democratic voters.
Some Republicans have been open to a long-term strategy. In comments in January, Republican Party Chairman Steve Stepanek argued that the party’s newly acquired majorities in the state House and Senate would give them the opportunity to change the cards of Congress in their favor. .
“For this reason, we are controlling the redistribution,” he said, according to WMUR. “I can stand here today and assure you that we will be sending a conservative Republican to Washington, DC, as a member of Congress in 2022.”
But speaking on Thursday, Republican members of the committee argued that the proposed new map was motivated by geographic concerns, not political ones. The unusually-looking map is designed to bring together six towns south of Manchester: Hudson, Windham, Litchfield, Pelham, Salem and Atkinson, Rep. Ross Berry said.
The idea is to bring together the “southern level” of New Hampshire towns, which are separated under the current map, said Berry, a Republican from Manchester.
But consolidating those towns into the 1st Congressional District would result in an increase in the population of that district, Berry said, necessitating the relocation of other towns to the 2nd Congressional District. This transfer included the narrow strip of towns near the Maine border, including Dover and Durham, he said.
Nashua, a traditionally Democratic voting city, has been excluded from this list of cities grouped into the 1st Congressional District because of its population, Berry added.
The proposed districts remove constraints set by the state’s constitution, Berry noted.
“It meets the constitutional requirements of one man, one voice,” Berry said. “It meets the constitutional requirements of the State of New Hampshire: it is perfectly contiguous. So here is the map.
During a question-and-answer period, Democrats noted that the new claw-shaped district would require the representative of the 2nd Congressional District to travel through much of the 1st Congressional District to get from Durham to Keene.
Republicans countered that the current Congressional 1st District, which zigzags along its western edge, also forces people driving north to south in and out of their districts.
And on several occasions, Democrats have pleaded for keeping the current cards.
“Can you tell me why we don’t embrace the principle of, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it?” Representative Marjorie Smith, a Democrat from Durham, said.
“I wanted to see the rest of the south level rebuild,” replied Berry. “I consider it to be broken.”
Berry’s goal – to connect cities along the Massachusetts border – was voiced by other members of the Republican caucus on Thursday.
“I would like to stop choosing words and just accept (Rep. Berry’s) argument for the communities he wanted to rebuild,” said Rep. Steven Smith, a Republican from Charlestown.
Other Republican members, including President Barbara Griffin, referred to Berry in their comments on the map.
In an interview shortly after the meeting, Rep. Carol McGuire, an Epsom Republican, said Berry took the initiative in drawing the cards of Congress, adding that the rest of the Republican caucus accepted the rationale.
“He had one, and he presented it with a good reason to do it, and we said OK,” McGuire said. “… We agreed that the card he offered was reasonable.”
Democrats on the committee, meanwhile, presented an alternative map on Thursday that does not make major changes to district lines.
In the 10 years since the 2010 redistribution, the 1st Congressional District has grown to 18,000 more than the 2nd Congressional District. The Democratic proposal would move a city – Hampstead, with a 2020 population of 8,998 – to the 2nd Congressional District, balancing that gap with a difference of just 51 people.
Democrats have argued that their card continues an appropriate status quo. “This proposed map continues to maintain the competitiveness of the two districts and continues with the long history of making no changes to districts other than balancing population,” said Representative Matt Wilhelm, a Democrat from Manchester.
It’s unclear how – or if – Republican Gov. Chris Sununu might influence the process. In an interview with WMUR in July, Sununu said he would veto a redistribution proposal “if it fails the odor test and looks like gerrymandering districts.”
On Thursday, Sununu kept his reaction a secret but hinted that the cards might change over time.
“This is the first set of cards the public is seeing, and there are still many steps to take in this democratic process,” Sununu said. “Like many Granite Staters, I will be examining these proposals closely and awaiting further revisions as the legislative process progresses.”