My Turn: Community support is critical to prevent gerrymandering

For the Monitor
Published: 11/4/2021 6:00:06 AM

It’s shaped like a dragon. Except it’s not a dragon.

It’s one of New Hampshire’s Executive Council districts, and it winds the state from left to right, touching all three bordering states of Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.

It’s a prime example of unfair electoral map drawing called “gerrymandering,” which is when the politicians tasked with drawing district lines (a process known as “redistricting”) craft them in such a way that favors them or their party. Often, gerrymandered districts have strange shapes and that’s because they’re splicing and dicing communities to gain an electoral advantage.

Earlier this year, a WMUR news story quoted a leader from the political party in charge indicating they intended to cheat the system and gerrymander New Hampshire’s maps this year. Gerrymandering has happened for hundreds of years by all political parties, so while it is common, it is also unacceptable in a fair democracy.

That’s why voting rights groups across the state are urgently working to educate community members on why it’s critical that every single Granite Stater feels empowered to take action and get involved in this redistricting process.

Here’s the bottom line: It’s up to the people of New Hampshire to choose their elected officials, not the other way around. Every Granite State voice should be heard and valued equally when they cast their ballot.

And this doesn’t come around often. The map drawing process only happens once every ten years, and it’s happening right now. That means the maps being created by this legislature, and ultimately signed by the governor, will be in place for the next decade, including maps for the New Hampshire Senate and House, the Executive Council and the U.S. House of Representatives.

Given that the state is already gerrymandered, Granite Staters from every political party should take this chance seriously to ensure we make the maps fairer, not even more unfair.

In addition to the dragon-shaped Executive Council district, we also recently saw data from PlanScore and the national ACLU indicating that the current districts for the New Hampshire Senate have a Republican-leaning partisan bias of almost 6%.

It cannot be overstated — the stakes could not be higher. The maps drawn this year will play a vital role in Granite State communities and affect our day-to-day lives for the next decade.

The drawing of district lines can dictate not only who runs for public office and who is elected, but also who has the power to make decisions that greatly impact the communities they represent, from ensuring safe schools to adopting inclusive immigration policies. Communities of color, in particular, continue to face numerous obstacles across the country to meaningful participation in the political process, including redistricting.

The people that live in a district can then in turn influence whether elected officials feel obligated to respond to a particular community’s needs. To put it simply, “vote them out” does not work if the system is broken.

So far, the legislative committee in charge of the state House of Representative maps has conducted public listening sessions in each county and has released their first version of draft maps this week. The ACLU of New Hampshire and Fair Maps Coalition are watching closely to produce a thorough analysis of the draft maps that will be available soon.

Until then, there’s a few things every Granite Stater can do to get involved.

First, attend the listening session that will be scheduled for after the release of the maps and testify in support or opposition of the draft maps, depending on what they look like. Think about if there are areas of common interest that would be impacted by the draft maps, things like economic, social, cultural, ethnic or racial interests common to the population.

Second, urge the committee to schedule additional public hearings in each county so as many people of New Hampshire can attend as possible, and that they should make them remotely accessible, especially in the midst of the pandemic.

Third, call Gov. Sununu and tell him to support fair maps and oppose the draft maps if they are gerrymandered.

States are required to redistrict, but they are not required to gerrymander. Ensuring fair representation of our New Hampshire communities for the next decade requires urgent community support.

(Lily Jackson is redistricting organizer at the ACLU of New Hampshire.)

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