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Citizens drew nonpartisan, competitive redistricting maps; why can’t lawmakers

By John Cross - Guest Columnist | Mar 5, 2022

Redistricting should result in voting districts where elected officials represent the day to day concerns of their voters. Your representative should be your advocate, focused on your school district, your health & safety, your water systems, and your local economy. Your representative should advocate for the interests of your town, city, and county. The redistricting proposals of our NH legislature in HB50, HB52, SB 240 and SB 241 needlessly ignore these tenets of community-based representation.

I am a member of the nonpartisan, volunteer powered Map-a-Thon Project, which endeavored to demonstrate redistricting best practices centered on a nationally recognized concept called Communities of Interest (COIs) – shared interests that bind communities together. With the help of over 300 fellow NH citizens from across the state, we converged on the following COIs as most important for fair redistricting: shared high school districts, shared police/fire/ambulance services, shared water/sewer services, health service regions, and shared issues like pollution, traffic, and poverty. As detailed in our comprehensive reports, which can be accessed at opendemocracyaction.org/maps, we demonstrated that nonpartisan, COI focused redistricting can be accomplished, yielding maps that comply with applicable laws and regulations while also producing politically competitive districts. Our reports compare our fair maps to those proposed by our New Hampshire Legislature, and a summary of our findings and concerns follows.

The Legislature’s SB 241 proposal for Executive Council districts shows little regard for COIs and largely ignores county lines. As with the current map, 19 school districts and 7 counties are split by district lines. In contrast, Map-a-Thon’s map splits only 3 school districts and preserves county lines.

The 24 NH Senate districts proposed in SB240 also do not consider COIs. It ignores school districts and counties, and yields a high population variance across districts. The NH Senate district boundaries proposed by Map-a-Thon preserve more school districts and county lines while also achieving a smaller population variance across districts.

The NH House maps in HB50 contain numerous large floterial districts, one containing more than 30,000 residents, diminishing our constitution’s goal of truly local representation. Compared to Map-a-Thon’s maps, the legislature denied 16 more towns their dedicated districts, in violation of the NH Constitution. In Hillsborough County, the legislature’s map puts two of the most Republican Manchester wards in one 3-ward floterial to gain 2 more seats for Republicans. In contrast, Map-a-Thon’s proposal gives 2 additional towns, New Ipswich and Wilton, their dedicated districts, and creates 8 more competitive seats.

The HB 52 U.S. Congressional district map has garnered the most attention, discarding 140 years of precedent by radically changing both districts, needlessly shifting 75 towns and 365,706 Granite Staters. While the prior district boundaries were relatively competitive, the proposed boundaries are heavily polarized, with District 1 predictably Republican and District 2 predictably Democrat. The legislature’s proposal unjustifiably removes political competition – gerrymandering plain and simple. Map-a-Thon’s analysis verified it, as did analyses by the ACLU, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, and FiveThirtyEight.

The Map-a-Thon’s analysis was produced by an impressive team of volunteers that includes David Andrews, our lead mapper and UNH-trained engineer; Jeffrey Smith, a retired financial executive; Bill Brown, a Naval Academy graduate and retired nuclear engineer; Phil Hatcher, a retired UNH computer science professor; Kim Frost, an epidemiologist and global health data expert; Ian Burke, a research and survey design consultant. This team was assisted by over 300 Granite Staters who helped define COIs and collect associated data in almost every NH town.

We demonstrated that fair, nonpartisan district maps can follow the law, represent important citizen interests, and maintain competitive elections. Why has our legislature refused to do the same? Voters need to speak up now!

John Cross is a systems engineer with degrees in engineering and physics from Johns Hopkins University and Santa Clara University. Cross led development of the Map-a-Thon’s map analysis tools. He lives in Brookline.


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