CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Lawmakers tasked with redrawing New Hampshire’s legislative districts received both sweeping and specific suggestions as they began hearing from the public Tuesday.
Members of both the House and Senate redistricting committees hosted their first public listening session Tuesday night in Concord. Similar sessions will be held around the state, with meetings scheduled in Dover on Sept. 22 and Manchester Sept. 30.
Several of those who spoke up Tuesday offered general pleas urging lawmakers to perform their duties as fairly and openly as possible. They spoke out against gerrymandering — drawing boundaries to benefit the party in power — and said they would have preferred districts to be redrawn by an independent commission instead of the Legislature.
“The alternative is more wrangling, more roughness, more gerrymandering, more accusations of fraud,” said a man from New London. “We don’t have to travel that road. We could stop that, cold, right now.”
Others offered more detailed suggestions, including ensuring that towns with sufficient population be granted their own representatives in the House, and that communities with common interests such as belonging to the same school district or sharing police departments remain grouped together in the Senate and Executive Council maps.
David Andrews, of the Open Democracy Action advocacy group, said the five Executive Council districts should be drastically shifted to better reflect the state’s distinct geographical regions. Senate districts also are too sprawling, said Andrews, who also outlined different methods of creating floterial House districts that include multiple towns.
“You’re not going to have the perfect map, but you can strive for the perfect map,” he said.
Republicans hold eight of the 15 seats on the House committee, while the Senate redistricting committee is made up of two Republicans and one Democrat. The Senate panel initially will focus on redrawing the 24 state Senate districts and five Executive Council districts, while the House will initiate plans for the 400 House seats and both congressional districts.
Republicans also controlled the Legislature when the current plan was approved in 2012. 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.
Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed bills in 2020 and 2019 that would have created an independent redistricting commission, saying it was unnecessary because gerrymandering is rare in the state and the current redistricting process was fair. The GOP-led Legislature killed similar bills this year.
Though Democrats hold both of the state’s U.S. House seats, the 1st District seat flipped five times in seven election cycles before Democrat Chris Pappas won his first term in 2018. Some Republicans want to use the redistricting process to increase their odds of regaining the seat, but Sununu recently told New Hampshire Public Radio, “That’s really stupid.”
“Districts and elections and public service, it’s won with good candidates. If you don’t have a good candidate, I don’t care how good you make the district,” he said. “I’m just a big believer that that’s just a bunch of political nonsense that really has no place and never really pans out.”
The last speaker at Tuesday night's session was a 36-year-old woman from Hopkinton who urged lawmakers to look beyond the next election.
"Please take a long view because there are people who are going to be living here not only 10 years from now but 20, 30, 40, 50 years from now," she said. “What you do here will affect what happens decades from now.”