Redistricting in New Hampshire

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Redistricting in New Hampshire
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Redistricting on PolicypediaState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 CensusState-by-state redistricting procedures

This page is about redistricting in New Hampshire. The state's 6.5% population growth came in part from people moving from the state's southern neighbor, Massachusetts; that trend meant the southern half of New Hampshire outpaced the north. Dover and Bedford racked up the highest numbers statewide.

The Granite State kept its two seats in the U.S. House following the 2010 census, both of which have remained largely the same for over a century.


New Hampshire's redistricting is overseen by the legislature, subject to a gubernatorial veto. State law does not provide specific initial or final deadlines to complete the map.

Under a successful 2006 ballot initiative, any town of 3,000 citizens or more is guaranteed a resident member in the House of Representatives, something made easier by the size of the Granite State's lower chamber. Specifically:

"When the population of any town or ward, according to the last federal census, is within a reasonable deviation from the ideal population for one or more representative seats, the town or ward shall have its own district of one or more representative seats.

Both the House and the Senate were to submit their own plans, overseen by a redistricting committee. Governor John Lynch could veto any resultant plan but Republican supermajorities in both chambers meant the GOP could override the Democratic Governor's ruling.

In early March 2011, a bill to establish an independent commission that would have held hearings around the state and delivered non-binding recommendations to the eventual committee died in committee.[1] In killing the bill that would have given the Governor and the ranking Majority and Minority members of both chambers influence over committee membership, the House special committee voted 11-4.[2]

By early April, the House Special Committee on Redistricting had been formed and held initial meetings. A bid to ask Democratic Governor John Lynch to name a commission of non-elected experts failed on a party line vote. Republican Representative Steve Vaillancourt, named the clerk of that Committee, expected to run regular weekly meetings to address New Hampshire's 400 House seats.[3]

Possible special session

Legislative leadership hinted at a possible special session in Fall 2011 to handle redistricting. House representative Paul Mirski (R) said he was concerned that some cities would not complete their ward maps in time for the legislature to draw new Senate and House districts. The session would likely be called in late September 2011, according to House speaker William O'Brien (R).[4]

Congressional map

Figure 1: This map shows the New Hampshire Congressional Districts after the 2000 census.

There were two Congressional districts that required re-drawing to configure according to new population figures.

U.S. Reps. Frank Guinta (R) and Charlie Bass (R) had to balance their two districts to even out the population, which was 200-300 votes apart. That reportedly led to a long internal party fight behind-the-scenes. Republican leaders and Guinta were said to only want minimal changes, while Bass was said to want to add a number of Republican towns to his district, including Merrimack, Hampstead and Plaistow.[5]

On March 7, 2012, a House subcommittee voted 7-3 to accept behind-closed doors plan for Congressional districts. The plan, known as the "revised Mirski/Bates Proposal," moved seven Republican leaning towns from the 2nd District to the 1st in exchange for Merrimack, New Hampton and Hart's Location. This made the 2nd District slightly more Democratic leaning and the 1st slightly more Republican.[6]

However, on March 12 the full committee voted 14-1 to adopt a plan that made no drastic changes and moved only 250 people.[7] In the end, the House ended up approving the Senate's plan, SB 202, by a vote of 239-95, on April 11. Some representatives criticized the Senate plan for moving 19,000 voters between the districts, some 16,500 more than the House version. The plan then went to the governor,[8] who signed it on April 23.[9]

Legislative maps

Redistricting effects far more districts than Congressional seats, and New Hampshire's enormous lower House amplifies every one of those choices. At 400 members, the Granite State's House is the largest in the U.S. and one of the three biggest parliamentary bodies in the world.

Given the once-in-a-decade opportunity to rework the boundaries, lawmakers considered the idea of dividing representation into smaller and more precise units.[10] Whereas each District had a number of Representatives, plans for the 2011 redistricting suggested adding new language to ensure each town, or each ward, would elect a member of its own community.[11]

Following a 2006 law, New Hampshire Question 2, each town with 3,000 or more residents is guaranteed at least one state Representative. Overall, with America's largest legislative chamber in the 400 member House and a population of approximately 1.3 million, each lawmaker would have 3,250 constituents at the end of the redistricting process.[12]

Changes to representation

Question 2 could have pronounced effects on representation for small communities. As larger municipalities sought their own districts, smaller communities long coupled to sizable at-large districts could receive either a single representative or a new district containing other small towns. For example, Newington, a small town then included in Portsmouth's seven-member district, could break off from Portsmouth and join with other smaller towns. This could mean more direct representation for Newington and possibly the loss of a seat for Portsmouth. Some worried that such division would cause lawmakers to focus on increasingly local concerns and reduce the quantity of representation for small communities formerly in multi-member districts. Partisan concerns were also a subject of speculation. Some contended that increased direct representation for outlying towns would give a stronger voice to more moderate voters than those in heavily Democratic cities like Portsmouth. Others contended that this overstates the support for GOP candidates in these municipalities. For 2010 census redistricting, each representative would represent 3,089 voters.[13]

It was reported on October 31, 2011 that the House Redistricting Committee was considering adopting rules that would ignore the state constitutional requirements in order to avoid a possible federal court challenge. Doing that, however, threatened to draw legal challenges from voters in any town large enough to have their own representative but not allotted its own district.[14]


Each redistricting cycle the city of Manchester conducts its own redistricting and sends that to state legislators as a guideline for the city wards. Each ward has roughly 9,000 people.[15]

House map unveiled

On December 14, the House leadership released their redistricting plan. Republican chair of the redistricting committee Paul Mirski said several lawmakers submitted their own plans, many suggestions of which were included in the proposed plan. David Pierce, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the plan did not do enough to follow a 2006 constitutional amendment passed by voters that gives small towns or wards their own representative if their population is within a reasonable deviation from the ideal population.

"The Republican Leadership plan denies towns and wards their own representatives even though the state constitution guarantees them their own representatives and they've offered no reason why they ignored the state constitution," Pierce said. Mirski said they did everything they could to conform to the amendment while also complying with federal "one person, one vote" requirements.[16]

A bipartisan group of legislators went to a meeting of the redistricting committee on December 15, urging them to rework the map so as not to merge parts of cities with neighboring towns. Under the then-current plan, 55 towns that meet the 3,291 population requirement to have their own district were not allotted one.[17]

Approved by House

On December 20, the Special Committee on Redistricting voted 12-5 to adopt the House Republican Leadership Plan for new districts. They also passed an order that the plan be implemented by the Secretary of State without going to Governor John Lynch (D) first.[18]

The proposed bill was taken up by the House on January 18,[19] approving it by a vote of 205-68. Democrats offered an alternative plan, but it was defeated 261-70.[20] They argued that the Republican plan was unconstitutional because more than 50 towns that qualify for their own representative were not allotted one.

The bill then went to the Senate.


In mid-February, Republican leaders in the House stood together in an attempt to quash dissent in their party regarding the map. The House delegation from Manchester said they opposed the plan as they believed it could cost the city two representatives. To that end, they agreed to sustain a veto by the governor which they were expecting. In response, a five-page letter blasting critics of the plan and signed by over 40 Republican House members was sent out to all members of the chamber. The Senate was not expected to vote on it until March.[21]

Passed by Senate

The Senate voted 15-8 in favor of the plan. Four Republican senators broke ranks to side with Democrats against the plan. If these senators held their ground and New Hampshire Governor John Lynch (D) vetoed the plan as he was expected to, the Senate would not be able to override.[22]

Senate map released

The Republican proposal for new Senate districts was released on January 5, 2012. The plan, by Sen. Russell Prescott, included the creation of a new district. Additionally, it drew Minority Leader Sylvia Larsen (D) into the same district as freshman Republican Andy Sanborn and gave a number of GOP incumbents more strongly Republican districts, including Senate President Peter Bragdon.

Larson criticized the plan for being crafted in secret. “While redistricting is supposed to be an open and public proposal, this plan was designed in backrooms with clear partisan motivation to promote a future of Republican domination in the State House,” she said.[23]

Senate map approved

The Senate plan was passed along party lines by a vote of 19-4 on February 1, 2012. It included changes to 18 of the 24 Senate districts.[24]

The bill advanced to the House where it passed by a vote of 253-91 on March 7. It then went to the governor for final approval.[25]

Governor approves Senate map, vetoes House

Gov. John Lynch (D) signed the new Senate map into law on March 23, but vetoed the plan for the House, saying "it violates the constitutional principle for equal representation and local representation; it is inconsistent in its treatment of similarly situated towns and wards, and it unnecessarily changes the boundaries of existing districts."[26]

Under a successful 2006 ballot initiative, any town of 3,000 citizens or more is guaranteed a resident member in the House of Representatives and, according to Lynch, 62 towns and wards that deserved their own seats did not receive one.[27] The proposal was passed in the House by a veto-proof majority, but was one vote short of that mark in the Senate.[28]

Veto Overridden

On March 28, the House voted 246-112 to override Lynch's veto. The item was not on the calendar, however, and House Speaker William O'Brien's (R) move to put it up for a vote was a controversial one. It began when O'Brien called for a recess in order to hold a private Republican caucus, forcing Democrats and onlookers to leave the chamber. When reconvened, the motion was put forward, angering Democrats. They attempted to delay the motion and tried to called a recess in order to have their own private caucus, but O'Brien denied the request.[29] The Senate took up the matter that night, voting to override the veto 17-7.[30]

New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesman Collin Gately said there was no question that a lawsuit would be filed and that the party was reviewing their options. Community and advocacy groups were also expected to join legal challenges.[31]

Approved by DOJ

New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney (D) sought clearance for the new districts from the Department of Justice in April. The DOJ gave preliminary approval in late May 2012, agreeing that the plans did not violate the Voting Rights Act.[32]

Public input

According to Josiette White, state director for America Votes, the legislature historically held public input hearings in every county prior to the creation of new maps. White said that in 2011, hearings were not widely held. The public hearings held were in relation to city ward lines and not state legislative or Congressional lines. Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress, echoed that sentiment and concern over a lack of hearings.[33]

Public hearings

The redistricting committee held 10 public hearings throughout October to obtain input on the state house and congressional districts.[34] Paul Mirski, chair of the House special committee on redistricting, said the meetings would begin on October 13. "As we go through this process, we feel it is important to get public input to solicit any thoughts and concerns of the citizens of the state about redistricting," Mirski said.[35]

The dates were:[36]

  • October 13: Mountain View Community Nursing Home, Ossipee.
  • October 13: Nashua Public Library, Theatre Room, Nashua
  • October 18: Keene Public Library Auditorium, Keene.
  • October 18: Belknap Mill, 25 Beacon St. East, Laconia
  • October 20: UNH Cooperative Extension, 3855 Dartmouth College Highway, North Haverhill
  • October 20: Hilton Auditorium, Rockingham County, Nurshing Home, Brentwood
  • October 25: Lancaster Town Hall, Lancester
  • October 25: Strafford County Superior Court, Court Room 1, Dover
  • October 27: Probate Court, Third Floor, Sullivan County, Administrative Building, Newport

Legal issues

House districts lawsuits

Five lawsuits filed against the approved House districts were consolidated into one case and sent to the state Supreme Court.

The city of Manchester filed a suit to block implementation of the new House districts on April 23, arguing that it was entitled to more representatives than it would receive under the plan. Manchester, the state's largest city, said the plan provided them with 31 representatives when it deserved 33 or 34.[37]

The following day the city of Concord filed suit, arguing the House plan unconstitutionally deprived Ward 5 of its own representative.[38] On April 26 a third suit was filed by a group of Democratic lawmakers and activists. Lead petitioner Rep. Mary Jane Wallner (D) stated, "The House redistricting plan is unconstitutional and violates the letter and the spirit of the 2006 constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by New Hampshire voters." The amendment called on lawmakers to create as many single representative districts as possible.[39]

Separate lawsuits were also filed by a group of House Republicans and the town of Gilford. The case was delivered to the court on May 11.[40]

On June 19, 2012, the New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected all of the cases, saying that while the plan might not have been the best possible, it did not violate the state Constitution.[41]


Deviation from "Ideal Districts"

2000 Population Deviation[42]
Office Percentage
Congressional Districts 0.10%
State House Districts 9.26%
State Senate Districts 9.50%
Under federal law, districts may vary from an 'Ideal District' by up to 10%, though the lowest number achievable is preferred. 'Ideal Districts' are computed through simple division of the number of seats for any office into the population at the time of the Census.

Constitutional explanation

The New Hampshire Constitution provides the Legislature with authority over redistricting in Article 9.

Ballot measures

The following measures have appeared on the New Hampshire ballot pertaining to redistricting.

See also

External links


  1. New Hampshire Insider, "Redistricting Committee Nixes Redistricting Commission", March 4, 2011
  2. The Lobby NH, "Non-political redistricting? Probably not", March 10, 2011
  3. Sea Coast Online, "Population shifts may alter political districts", April 3, 2011
  4. Nashua Telegraph "Special session eyed on expected loss of $35m, redrawing wards," August 4, 2011
  5. Bedford Patch, "Bass, Guinta Locked in Battle Over Districts," February 21, 2012
  6. Blue Hampshire, "N.H. Congressional Redistricting Plan Released," March 9, 2012
  7. Union Leader, "John DiStaso's Granite Status: Shea-Porter far ahead in NH-01 Dem primary poll; Ayotte headed to Ohio for Romney," March 14, 2012
  8. Union Leader, "House passes Congressional redistricting plan," April 11, 2012
  9. Wichita Eagle, "Reform redistricting," April 25, 2012
  10. Seacoast Online, "Redistricting changes afoot: Many towns will get their own reps; city could pick state reps by ward", January 16, 2011
  11. Manchester Examiner, "NH redistricting details emerge", January 17, 2011
  12. Nashua Telegraph, "Redrawing of House districts gets started", February 8, 2011
  13. "Redistricting brings changes for many N.H. towns in time for 2012 election," January 16, 2011
  14. New Hampshire Watchdog, "House Redistricting Committee may ignore NH Constitution," October 31, 2011
  15. Union Leader "Redistricting may change 10 Manchester wards," June 24, 2011
  16. Concord Monitor, "Redistricting plan unveiled," December 15, 2011
  17. Nashua Telegraph, "Rejection of N.H. House redistricting plan urged," December 16, 2011
  18. Foster's Daily Democrat, "Redistricting plan worrisome to some state representatives Durham won't be moved into Rockingham County," December 22, 2011
  19., "NH House GOP redistricting plan up for vote," January 17, 2012
  20. Concord Patch, "House Approves GOP Redistricting Plan," January 18, 2012
  21. Union Leader, "Manchester reps fight redistricting plan," February 19, 2012
  22. NH Insider, "House And Senate Redistricting Plans Head To Lynch; Congressional Plan Attracts Opposition," March 9, 2012
  23. Nashua Telegraph, "Proposed Senate redistricting plan released," January 6, 2012
  24., "NH Senate passes its new districts," February 1, 2012
  25., "House approves new NH Senate districts," March 7, 2012
  26. Fosters, "Governor vetoes House redistricting, signs Senate plan," March 23, 2012
  27. Real Clear Politics, "Lynch vetoes NH House redistricting plan," March 23, 2012
  28. Concord Monitor, "Lynch vetoes House redistricting," March 24, 2012
  29. Concord Patch, "House Overrides Redistricting Veto," March 28, 2012
  30. NECN, "Redistricting plan becomes law over Lynch veto," March 28, 2012
  31. Concord Monitor, "Redistricting plan could be left to courts," March 30, 2012
  32. NECN, "NH redistricting plan OK'd re: Voting Rights Act," June 4, 2012
  33. Public News Service "Lack of Redistricting Transparency Concerns NH Groups," August 11, 2011
  34. NECN "NH to hold public hearings on redistricting," October 4, 2011
  35. Merrimack Patch "Redistricting Public Hearing In Nashua Next Week," October 4, 2011
  36. Concord Patch "State Officials to Hold Redistricting Hearings," October 5, 2011
  37., "Manchester sues over NH House redistricting plan," April 23, 2012
  38., "2nd city sues over NH House redistricting plan," April 25, 2012
  39. Concord Monitor, "Third suit filed over redistricting," April 26, 2012
  40. Concord Monitor, "Redistricting headed to High Court," May 12, 2012
  41. Concord Patch, "NH Supreme Court Throws Out Redistricting Lawsuits," June 19, 2012
  42. National Conference of State Legislatures, “Redistricting 2000 Population Deviation Table”, accessed February 1, 2011