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A Turning Point for Redistricting Reform in New Hampshire?

The proposal would ban gerrymandering in the state and establish a citizen’s advisory redistricting commission.

February 28, 2019

New Hampshire took a major step toward redistricting reform this week when the state House passed HB 706 with a strong bipartisan vote of 218 to 123. The bill would establish an advisory redistricting commission that would draw the state’s congressional, legislative, executive council, and county commission districts.

U.S voters strongly support efforts to reform how states conduct redistricting. In 2018, voters in five states — Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah — approved reforms that were sparked by citizen activists to limit extreme partisan gerrymandering. But the New Hampshire bill could mark a turning point for states that don’t have a ballot initiative process. “This bill clearly demonstrates that it’s not just the people that are committed to fairness — lawmakers from both parties also increasingly get it,” said Yurij Rudensky, counsel with the Brennan Center’s democracy program.

The Brennan Center advocates for redistricting commissions, which can help states make their political map-drawing processes fairer and more transparent. Currently, state legislators control New Hampshire’s redistricting process. New Hampshire’s HB 706 could serve as a model that effectively combines best redistricting practices.

The proposal would create a fifteen-member advisory commission that would be tasked with drawing federal and state districts. The commission would include five Republicans, five Democrats, and five unaffiliated members. In order for a map to get approved, the plan would have to receive support from at least some members of all three groups.

HB 706 also establishes redistricting rules for New Hampshire that include requiring election maps to protect communities of color, banning partisan gerrymandering, and preserving communities of interest.

In addition, the bill opens up the redistricting process to meaningful public participation and scrutiny. All commission meetings would be held in the open and scheduled to encourage attendance and comment. The commission would be required to disclose all data that it uses, along with any communications that it receives from individuals seeking to influence the process. Finally, it would issue a report with all proposed and final plans that explain the redistricting choices.

To become law, HB 706 must now pass in the state Senate (which is considering a redistricting proposal of its own) and get the governor’s signature.

Read the Brennan Center’s overview of HB 706.

(Image: jiawangkun/Getty)