N.H. Senate passes independent redistricting commission bill

  • Dunbarton residents come to the Dunbarton Community Center to vote during Tuesday's snowstorm on town voting day, Mar. 13, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Associated Press
Published: 3/28/2019 6:31:41 PM

The latest effort to remove partisanship from the process of redrawing New Hampshire’s legislative districts cleared the state Senate on Thursday over the objections of Republicans who argued it would violate the state Constitution.

The Democratically controlled Senate voted 14-10 along party lines Thursday to create a 15-member independent commission to redraw the state’s two congressional districts, five Executive Council districts, 24 state Senate districts and districts for the 400 House seats. The bill now goes to the House, which has already passed a similar bill. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu opposes the idea.

Supporters argued the current system that puts lawmakers in charge of redistricting allows for gerrymandering, in which boundaries are drawn to benefit the party in power.

“Representatives and senators should not choose their voters, voters should choose their representatives,” said Sen. Shannon Chandley, D-Amherst. “Please vote for Senate Bill 8, so we can say firmly to all our constituents that we respect you as a voter, we respect our democracy and we stand for fair elections.”

Opponents argued that the Legislature shouldn’t outsource its responsibilities to a commission and noted that the state Constitution requires the Legislature to set election districts.

“There is a legislative process. A committee is formed, their meetings are held in public, public input is taken. Nobody’s voice has been quieted, in fact, sometimes those public hearings were quite contentious,” said Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry.

The current district designations were approved in 2012, when Republicans controlled the Legislature. But the map was vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who argued it was unconstitutional because it denied 62 towns and wards their own seats in the House and that it needlessly broke up municipalities. The Legislature overrode the veto, and the state Supreme Court later found the plan constitutional.

Lawmakers killed several bills in recent years that would have created an independent commission to handle redistricting. Another failed bill sought to take not just politics out of the process but people. It would have created a procedure to draw electoral districts using a computer algorithm. The House also considered a constitutional amendment this session to create an independent commission, but it was retained in committee.

Supporters of the Senate bill defended its constitutionality, noting that the commission would submit its recommendations to the Legislature for final approval.

“Are we just going to do nothing and wing it, and say, ‘Whatever party’s in control, have at it’?” said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord. “Or are we right now, before the 2020 election, going to say, ‘Let’s be independent and fair, regardless of which party it is.’ ”

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