Commentary: A surprisingly civil discussion about redistricting in New Hampshire

October 6, 2021 6:00 am
State House dome

The House voted on several bills related to reproductive health and access to abortion. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Who knew? Who knew that our 400 New Hampshire House seats could legally be any number between 375 and 400, according to our state constitution?

We found that out last week at the House Special Committee on Redistricting work session. Republican Rep. Ross Berry gave a detailed summary of his work to find a better way to make all seats more nearly conform to the ideal number, with the lowest deviation from the average among counties. All members of the committee, Republicans and Democrats, listened carefully, asked questions, discussed, and then voted unanimously to keep the number for the coming 10 years at 400.

A more civilized bipartisan discussion couldn’t be asked for. Who knew it was possible in this hyper-partisan and aggressive year?

Then the chair asked David Andrews to present his explanation of how to make floterials – don’t groan, we need floterial districts if we’re going to have such a huge House – more equally representative. Andrews did this work as a volunteer with the nonpartisan “mapathon” project organized by Open Democracy, League of Women Voters N.H., and Granite State Progress, among others.

Again there was rapt attention to very detailed data, questions, and discussion from committee members of both parties. Who knew non-mathematicians would pay such close attention in the interests of fair maps? The mapathon maps will be posted on the committee’s website for the public to see as possible alternatives to the committee’s eventual maps.

Discussion turned to the cities, where ward boundaries need to be reflected in the allocation of New Hampshire House seats. Information had been gathered and was presented, discussion ensued, and then a unanimous vote was taken to proceed on the assumption that city wards would be drawn by the cities as equally as possible.

We still have no draft maps to look at, but it was clear that work has started.

Who knew that redistricting could be done with public input, with bipartisan commitment, and without angry demonstrations?

It’s happening in New Hampshire. Many of us are still hoping for a second round of public meetings where the committee’s draft maps will be shown and additional specific public testimony taken. But for now, and especially for those of us who remember the backroom process that was used in 2011, the cooperation and respect shown by the committee members for each other and for the public’s input is much appreciated. Who knew it could be done?

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