Commentary

Commentary: Citizens drew fair redistricting maps, so why can’t the Legislature do the same?

February 11, 2022 5:44 am
Exterior of the State House

The subcommittee voted, 4-3, to recommend the full committee find the bill inexpedient to legislate. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Redistricting should result in voting districts where elected officials represent the everyday concerns of their voters. Your representative should be your advocate, focused on your school district, your health and 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 New Hampshire Legislature in HB 50, HB 52, SB 240, and SB 241 needlessly ignore these tenets of community-based representation.

Our team of citizens, called the Map-a-Thon Project, is determined to demonstrate the best practices of redistricting to the voters and to the Legislature. Our effort is guided by a concept called Communities of Interest (COIs), a nationally recognized redistricting best practice defined with the help of over 300 fellow New Hampshire citizens. COIs bind communities together, and citizens told us these factors were most important: shared high school districts; shared police, fire, and ambulance services; shared water and sewer services; health service regions; and shared issues like pollution, traffic, and poverty.

We demonstrated that nonpartisan redistricting could follow the rules, consider COIs, and be competitive – all factors that benefit both the voters and the political parties. Not only have we drawn our own maps, but we’re using what we’ve learned to evaluate the maps from the New Hampshire Legislature. What we found isn’t pretty.

Our detailed reports can be found at opendemocracyaction.org/maps, and we’ve summarized the key points below.

The Legislature’s SB 241 proposal for Executive Council districts has little regard for communities of interest, and largely ignores county lines. As with the current map, 19 school districts and seven counties are split by the district lines. This needn’t be the case; Map-a-Thon’s map splits only three school districts and keeps county lines intact.

The 24 New Hampshire Senate districts proposed in SB 240 also do not consider community needs. It ignores school districts and counties, and does not keep districts equal in population. The Senate district boundaries proposed by Map-a-Thon preserve more school district and county boundaries, while also achieving a smaller difference between the lowest- and highest-population districts.

The New Hampshire House maps in HB 50 contain numerous large floterial districts, one containing more than 30,000 residents, and diminishing our constitution’s goal of truly local representation. Compared to Map-a-Thon’s maps, the Legislature denied 16 more towns their dedicated House districts, in violation of the New Hampshire Constitution. In Merrimack County, Bow and Hooksett should have their own representative seats, yet they were forced to share with neighboring towns.

The Map-a-Thon’s technical volunteers have included John Cross, a systems engineer; Jeffrey Smith, a retired financial executive; Phil Hatcher, a retired UNH computer science professor; Bill Brown, a retired nuclear engineer, and Naval Academy and Tuck School graduate; Kim Frost, an epidemiologist and global health data expert; Ian Burke, a research and survey design consultant; and more than 300 other Granite Staters who helped to define COIs and collected data in almost every 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.

A chart showing Senate redistricting
(Source: Map-a-Thon Project)

Chart showing congressional districts
(Source: Map-a-Thon Project)

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David Andrews
David Andrews

David Andrews, a data analyst with the nonpartisan organization The Redistricting Data Hub, was lead mapper for the Map-a-Thon Project’s mapping and technical team. Over the course of the last year, he’s drawn over 100 maps, finding better ways to create fair and competitive voting district maps. David lives in Chichester.

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