As Supreme Court defers gerrymandering decision, Sununu has a chance to address it

Monitor staff
Published: 6/29/2019 9:12:21 PM

The Supreme Court decided to leave partisan gerrymandering to the states, and Gov. Chris Sununu now has the chance to address it.

If Sununu signs House Bill 706 into law, an independent redistricting committee made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, all approved by the opposing party, and five politically independent members appointed by the 10 partisan members would draw the boundaries of the state’s many electorates. The state legislature would then approve the committee’s maps.

For Democratic Sen. Shannon Chandley, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to not prevent political gerrymandering is a call to action for the legislature.

“The message from the Supreme Court is that we have to act at the state level,” said Chandley, who co-sponsored the bill.

HB706 would strip majority parties of some control in drawing election districts.

“The bill is going to make it more difficult for any party that has a majority at the time to create districts that people believe are gerrymandered,” said Republican Sen. James Gray, another co-sponsor. “If the bill doesn’t pass, we get the status quo.”

In the view of many, that status quo is partisan gerrymandering.

“If you compare the total votes with the distribution of seats, you’ll see that there’s a difference,” said Marjorie Smith, a Durham Democrat and the original sponsor of the bill. “It would appear that if the lines were drawn to consider reasons other than political party preference, more Democrats would have been elected.”

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala has also noticed partisan gerrymandering in the Granite State.

“The Republicans at the state legislature level definitely tried to, and with a lot of success, redraw the field in their favor,” Scala said, pointing to the state’s House, Senate and Executive Council districts. “It certainly helped with retaining a majority for most of the decade.”

Olivia Zink, executive director of OpenDemocracy, an organization that works to “provide equal voice to everyone,” said that the favoritism created through gerrymandering suppresses certain voters.

“Voters should be picking their politicians, and some people feel like their vote doesn’t matter because of the way their district is drawn,” Zink said, adding praise for Gray, Chandley and Smith, whose bipartisan bill safely passed through the House with a vote of 218 to 123.

Smith said she knows that the bill could hurt her party, which currently holds the majority, if it retains control of both chambers next year, but she made it clear that that advantage for the Democrats isn’t as important as fairness to voters.

“If Democrats won in 2020 then they’d be able to draw the lines and favor themselves. I don’t want them to favor Democrats or Republicans. I want them to make sure every vote counts equally,” Smith said. “Maybe that sounds naive, maybe that sounds like a violin should be playing in the background, but I think that if voters see we are doing everything we can to have fair elections, that has to strengthen their confidence in the integrity of the government.”


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