THE REPUBLICAN-BACKED redistricting plan passed the New Hampshire House on a party-line vote of 186 to 164, and is now in the Senate. It would make New Hampshire’s First Congressional District more competitive for Republicans but effectively cede the Second Congressional District to the Democrats. Here I discuss why the Senate should oppose the plan.
The U.S. Constitution requires a decennial census. The 2020 U.S. Census showed that New Hampshire’s overall population grew by 61,059 people or 4.6 percent since the 2010 census. Now 18,000 more residents are in the First District than the Second, requiring some adjustment in the boundaries for the congressional districts. New Hampshire is one of the states that decides voting districts by a vote of the state legislature.
The Democrat proposal would move Hampstead from the First to the Second District. That’s all. The Republican proposal would make extreme changes, relocating liberal leaning eastern border communities, including Durham, Dover, Rochester and Somersworth, to the western, that is, Second Congressional District. The Republican proposal would also shift Conway, the surrounding towns, and most of the rest of Carroll County to the new Second District. Instead of the current essentially east-west split, the Republican-leaning district would be restricted to a relatively small geographic area in south-central New Hampshire.
The plan is not well thought out. First, the voters of affected cities and towns should choose their own representative to Congress in a competitive race rather than have the deck stacked in favor of a Democrat. Representatives to Congress pass the laws and appropriate the money that operates the federal government. Under the current regime, a vote for the Republican redistricting plan would be a vote for a Democrat who supports the Biden-Harris agenda.
Second, the plan does not meet generally accepted redistricting criteria. In 1812, the governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, signed a bill that created a partisan voting district in the Boston area that was so contorted that a political cartoonist drew it as mythical salamander, hence the term “Gerrymander.” Among other things, a properly configured district should be contiguous (with the cities and towns connected to each other); compact (logically and visually grouped together); and have a community of interest (such as magnet employment centers, county seats, or school districts). The current congressional districts essentially meet those criteria. Four counties are in the First District, five in the Second, and Hillsborough County is split between Manchester in the First District and Nashua in the Second.
But the proposed redistricting runs afoul of those criteria. Suppose a resident of Durham wanted to reach the bulk of the Second District in western New Hampshire without leaving the district. He or she would have to drive north along the Maine border, up through the White Mountains and then south. If someone worked in Dover, Rochester or Somersworth, but lived in an adjacent town, they would vote for a representative where they lived but be represented by someone else in the city where they worked. So, the proposal is not compact; it does not reflect a community of interest.
Third, despite a liberal wave in New England, New Hampshire was and currently is largely a Republican state. The governor, Executive Council, state Senate and state House are all now majority Republican. Although a Democrat has been the U.S. representative to Congress in the Second District for the past 10 years, Republicans held that seat for 50 of the prior 56 years. The New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office reports that, as of Sept. 1, 2021, there were 277,720 registered Democrats, 267,526 Republicans, and 324,802 “undeclared” voters in the Granite State. Whoever gets a majority of the independent voters is likely to win future elections.
And that gets me to my fourth point. The 2022 elections will strongly favor Republicans. Republicans and a large majority of independents correctly perceive the Biden-Harris administration as weak and ineffective. Nationally, Republicans are expected to take back the U.S. House of Representatives and possibly the U.S. Senate. Gov. Chris Sununu is popular and successful and will help elect down-ballot candidates, including the representatives to Congress. In competitive races, Republicans could win back both of our congressional districts. So, the question is: why would Republicans in the Legislature redraw congressional districts so that one favors the election of a Democrat?
Wayne C. Beyer is a New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. lawyer who served high level appointments in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. He lives in North Conway.