Republicans on the negotiating panel called the map a compromise. (Bill Pugliano | Getty Images)
Lawmakers from the House and Senate met Monday to negotiate their latest attempt at drawing a congressional district map that can gain Gov. Chris Sununu’s signature, a process intended to determine voting districts for the next decade.
After a few last-minute tweaks were discussed in a morning session, the joint panel of lawmakers met again in the afternoon, agreeing to advance a map that would move Manchester into the 2nd Congressional District. Goffstown would also move into the 2nd District, but the map would keep the Seacoast region together in the 1st District, one of the issues raised in the last Republican-backed map, in which the 2nd District formed a “horseshoe,” wrapping around the 1st District from the eastern to western state border.
Republicans on the negotiating panel called the map a compromise. “It’s slightly less partisan Republican than what the House originally passed,” said Rep. Ross Berry, a Manchester Republican.
The new map is about 1.5 points less partisan than the first Republican proposal, according to Dave Andrews, a data analyst at the Redistricting Data Hub, a nonprofit that hosts redistricting data for free. He said the 1st District leans 7.5 percent Republican and the 2nd District leans 7.5 percent Democrat under the plan approved Monday.
“District 2 is way out of reach of Republicans; there’s almost no way they can win in District 2 under this map,” Andrews said. But the goal, he said, should be to create a map where a candidate from either party could win any election. That would help people feel that their vote counts and encourages participation in the civic process, instead of voters feeling the outcome of an election is predetermined, he said.
This map looks more similar to the congressional districts of the past 10 years. And Republicans said the map’s appearance was one of the considerations they had to weigh in drawing it.
“We do have to give, and I have to give, deference to how something looks,” Berry said, noting that while he values compactness the least, the previous maps had been criticized for their appearance.
But looks aren’t everything. “The districts look like the old ones, kind of, but it’s really just the same map,” Andrews said, noting that while towns had been shuffled around, the districts aren’t significantly more competitive under the final proposal. “It’s slightly better but still not what I and what I think the governor and most people who want to see competitive elections in New Hampshire want,” he said.
The governor’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on the latest map. Sen. James Gray, a Rochester Republican, said he had spoken with the governor’s office about “concepts” relating to the map – like potentially splitting the wards of Manchester into different districts, an option they didn’t pursue. Gray said neither the governor nor his staff has indicated his position on the bill.
In Monday’s afternoon session, lawmakers agreed to two minor changes: moving the towns of Hill and Andover into the 1st District, and moving Bristol into the 2nd District, with the goal of more evenly distributing the state’s population between the two districts.
Sen. Donna Soucy, the lone Democrat on the committee, said she could not support the map, which would put two of the state’s largest cities in the same district, noting that the public has not had an opportunity to weigh in on it.
Senate Bill 200, which contains the map, now heads to the Office of Legislative Services for proofreading, and the committee will vote on the final product ahead of the Thursday deadline for committees to act on all bills.
Both sides expressed some dissatisfaction with the final negotiation.
“The redistricting process, it is ugly. It is political. No one leaves clean, and I would actually venture to say no one leaves happy,” Berry said.
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