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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)