Granite State Democrats and their progressive allies have denounced the redistricting process as “corrupt,” saying it continues to disenfranchise many Granite Staters.
Republicans say they have had a series of open meetings around the state, taking questions and open discussions in their approach to drawing the state’s legislative and congressional districts.
So, who’s right?
The House Special Committee on Redistricting has held 10 public meetings, one in each county. It has also held public “work sessions” for discussion and debate. The bipartisan committee has taken questions from dozens of citizens, activists, and partisan representatives. All of the hearings have been streamed online for the general public as well.
Even the Democrat-aligned League of Women Voters has commended the effort. “A more civilized bipartisan discussion couldn’t be asked for,” LWV-NH President Liz Tentarelli wrote after a work session earlier this month.
But some hyper-partisan activists are still attacking the process as lacking in transparency.
“Corrupt politicians who are advancing their anti-voter agenda and attempting to shut the public out from the mapping process are threatening our generation’s future,” said 603 Forward Advocacy and Engagement Coordinator Matt Mooshian.
How is a process that literally lets people walk in off the street and participate “shutting the public out”?
Rosemary Danelski, field director for America Votes, complains the committee isn’t allowing for remote participation. Granite Staters can watch from home, but they can’t ask questions. That, Democrats say, is an outrage.
“Lack of remote access to the redistricting process continues to disenfranchise many Granite Staters, including those who rightfully fear the risk of COVID-19, lack access to a means of transportation, or have work or childcare commitments during set hearing times,” she said.
“Republicans in Concord have already made perfectly clear to Granite Staters that they intended to engage in a corrupt power grab,” State Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said when the process first began.
Republicans responded with bemusement.
“It’s an open process, more so than any other bill the legislature would deal with. No other bill gets a roadshow throughout the state,” said committee co-chair Steven Smith (R-Charlestown.) He notes that citizens uncomfortable with attending public events are welcome to submit testimony remotely in advance.
Calling the process secretive and corrupt, Republicans say, is nonsense. House insiders tell NHJournal that Democrats keep repeating this claim and counting on the media to spread it for them. The goal is to whip up anger in the Democratic base, regardless of what the final maps look like.
One recurring complaint is the committee has yet to release any maps for consideration. Committee chair Rep. Barbara Griffin announced last week the district maps will be made public for voter input during the second week of November.
After the NHGOP’s surprise sweep of the governor’s office and the legislature last year, Democrats have stepped up their calls for an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission. That would require re-writing state law that gives the map-drawing duty to officials who are elected — and un-elected — by the voters.
Democrats had control of the governor’s mansion and legislature from 2007 until 2011. Gov. John Lynch and legislative Democrats could have proposed a nonpartisan redistricting law at the time.
Their calls for nonpartisan maps are also undermined by Democrats in Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, and other blue states where maps are drawn entirely by Democrats who have aggressively gerrymandered their districts. Democrats respond by pointing to states like Texas and North Carolina, where Republicans are doing the same.
That, Smith says, is why there’s no way a non-partisan commission could have worked.
“This is New Hampshire, there are no ‘non-partisan’ people. Throw a ball down a street you’re gonna hit someone elected to something.”
Instead, Smith wants to see the process that’s been in place continue. He notes that once the House votes the state Senate will go through the entire process again, including Holding still more public hearings. In fact, the Senate’s first meeting is scheduled for Monday.
Asked if he would feel the same way about New Hampshire’s handling of redistricting if Democrats were in charge, Smith said yes.
“If the Democrats are in charge (in 2030), they should follow the process we did,” he said.