Democrats lose attempt to challenge NH electoral district maps

By HOLLY RAMER

Associated Press

Published: 11-30-2023 3:45 PM

CONCORD, N.H. — Democratic voters lost an attempt to block New Hampshire’s newly drawn state Senate Executive Council districts after the state Supreme Court ruled that their claims fall outside the jurisdiction of the judicial branch.

In a 3-2 decision Wednesday, the court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit, saying New Hampshire’s Constitution authorizes the Legislature to draw electoral maps, and courts can only get involved when lawmakers fail to comply with specific constitutional requirements.

The suit was filed last year after the redrawing of the 24 Senate districts and the five districts for the Executive Council, which approves state contracts, judicial nominees and those nominated to lead state agencies. With the newly drawn boundaries, Republicans maintained their 14-10 majority in the Senate and 4-1 advantage on the council in the 2022 elections.

The plaintiffs, including former House Speaker Terie Norelli, alleged that the districts violated the New Hampshire Constitution because they were drawn for the purpose of partisan advantage. In the suit against Secretary of State David Scanlan, they argued the Legislature both “packed” Democrats into a small number of districts and “cracked” the remaining Democratic voters by dividing them among multiple districts so they fall short of a majority in each.

The court’s majority, however, agreed with the lower court, saying the case presented non-justiciable political questions.

“This opinion means that in New Hampshire, partisan and political questions related to redistricting will continue to be placed where they belong: in the hands of the people’s elected representatives,” Attorney General John Formella said in a statement.

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The court did take action on the state’s Congressional district maps last year, adopting a plan just before the filing period opened for the 2022 elections. The court stepped in after Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed two maps approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature that would have given Republicans a greater advantage in the 1st District. In the end, the new map didn’t differ much from the old; it moved five towns from the 1st District to the 2nd to reflect population changes. Both seats are held by Democrats.