Concord approves new redistricting ward map 

  • Map of new ward lines approved by Concord City Council on Nov. 8, 2021. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 11/9/2021 5:50:59 PM

Concord City Council voted on Monday to approve new ward boundaries created by a city redistricting committee. The map needs to be approved by the state Legislature before the new lines go into effect in January.

Redistricting takes place every 10 years, after the U.S. Census is completed. This year’s committee, which included city staff, city councilors, Mayor Jim Bouley, Concord state Rep. Steve Shurtleff and Concord School Board Chairman Jim Richards, met three times to assess the impact of the census results on city wards.

In its first public meeting on Oct. 20, the redistricting committee determined that changes to the ward map were necessary because of population shifts revealed by the 2020 census, which showed that the Wards 1, 2, 3 and 10 all gained population while Wards 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 lost people.

The committee drew new lines to try to keep the population of the wards as similar as possible, while paying attention to polling location accessibility and neighborhood boundaries. The new ward lines keep Merrimack Valley School District contained inside Ward 1 and Ward 2.

Senior Planner Sam Durfee explained in Monday’s Council meeting that the city’s new ward lines needed to follow roads or bodies of water, and that the new plan aimed to have included about 4,398 people in each of the city’s 10 wards.

“We need to make this balance about 5% above or about 5% below, and what that translates to is a loss or gain maximum of 228 people,” Durfee said. With Concord’s population in the 2020 census just under 44,000, that gave the committee a target of about 4,398 people per ward.

In the final version, Wards 5, 3, 2 saw significant changes as the committee sought to account for the population increase in the northern Wards 1 and 2 and the decrease in Wards 5,4 and 7.

Mayor Jim Bouley explained that usually, population data becomes available in July, so the city can make redistricting decisions in August, prior to the November elections. This year, the federal census results were released much later as the pandemic extended the process.

This later timeline meant that one proposal, ultimately rejected by the committee, would have moved Ward 5 Councilor-elect Stacey Brown out of the ward that had just voted her into office on Nov. 2.

The pandemic had other effects on the redistricting process, including a loss of population in Ward 4 that could be attributed in part to students at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce Law School studying remotely in 2020.

Roy Schweiker testified on Monday that he took issue with having the New Hampshire Men’s Prison confined to one ward. According to the current rules, the prison cannot be split into multiple wards.

“Right now if you vote in Ward 3, your vote counts twice as much as anything else because half the people in Ward 3 are ineligible to vote,” Schweiker said. Durfee said that the committee had taken some of Schweiker’s suggestions about the census block near the prison into account.

There was also back-and-forth between Schweiker and Bouley about changing the city’s charter to allow for a different number of wards.

Ultimately, the council approved an ordinance change dictating the new map boundaries with a voice vote.

“I think we came up with a really good product for the citizens of Concord to participate in the electoral process and I hope the state of New Hampshire respects our boundaries,” Bouley said.

Among the changes approved are polling location switches. Ward 4 residents will vote at Green Street Community Center and Ward 5 voters will go to the polls at Christa McAuliffe School. City Clerk Janice Bonefant said that all households will be notified of changes to their ward polling locations.

Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.

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