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New Hampshire’s Republican governor just vetoed a bipartisan redistricting commission

The veto is just the latest sign that GOP leaders want to control the map-making process.

Then-Councilor Chris Sununu listens during State of New Hampshire Executive Council meeting with then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, (D-NH), at the Children's Museum of New Hampshire in Dover, N.H., on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Then-Councilor Chris Sununu listens during State of New Hampshire Executive Council meeting with then-Gov. Maggie Hassan, (D-NH), at the Children's Museum of New Hampshire in Dover, N.H., on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bipartisan bill Friday that would have allowed an independent redistricting committee to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional district maps in 2021 and beyond.

The veto is just the latest sign that Republican Party leaders want to control the map-making process and preserve a system that allowed them to racially and politically gerrymander at historic proportions in several GOP-controlled states the last time district lines were redrawn in 2011. But supporters of the bill say the veto could actually backfire on New Hampshire Republicans, currently in the minority party in the state’s legislature. Sununu is up for re-election in 2020.

“With his veto, the governor is throwing out a plan that would ensure Republicans are treated fairly in the next round of redistricting even if Democrats do well in next year’s elections,” said Yurij Rudensky, a counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program who advised New Hampshire legislators on the bill.

Sununu said in a statement Friday that he decided to veto the bill that would have established a 15-member commission — free of recent lobbyists and elected officials — to redraw district maps because it would have created a body that was “unelected and unaccountable to the voters.” He added the measure was supported by out-of-state organizations that favor Democrats during the decennial redistricting process.

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“Legislators should not abrogate their responsibility to the voters and delegate authority to an unelected and unaccountable commission selected by political party bosses,” Sununu said in the statement. “We should all be proud that issues of gerrymandering are extremely rare in New Hampshire. Our current redistricting process is fair and representative of the people of our State.”

Under the vetoed bill, the 15-member commission that would include members picked from a list of applicants collected by the secretary of state, would be tasked with redrawing the state’s maps. State lawmakers need to approve the maps. Former elected officials and people that have been lobbyists within the past 10 years would be barred from joining the commission.

Rudensky called Sununu’s veto “shortsighted” and said the bill would have established a model for bipartisan redistricting reform.

“It would create a new citizens’ advisory commission to bring independence, transparency, and public input to a redistricting process formerly kept under wraps,” Rudensky said. “The commission would be charged with drawing congressional and state maps under a process split equally among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters, with the legislature giving final approval. And this new process would allow voters to participate and monitor map drawing.”

Under the current system, New Hampshire’s legislature, which is currently controlled by Democrats, is responsible for drawing up the state’s political lines. The governor has the ability to veto or approve any maps.

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But under such systems during the 2012 redistricting process, a number of Republican and some Democratic-controlled states drew heavily gerrymandered district lines using state-of-the-art mapmaking tools. That allowed the Republican Party to win a disproportionate number of congressional and legislative seats in several states, sometimes imposing extreme anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ policies.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled this year that federal courts do not have the power to decide partisan gerrymandering cases, a growing number of states have established independent commissions to draw district maps in a non-partisan manner. New Hampshire would have joined eight other states to have established such a commission.

While perhaps not as extreme as other states such as Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, or Wisconsin, there is evidence that New Hampshire’s maps were drawn in 2012 to give a disproportionate number of seats to Republicans.

Gearing up for the 2021 redistricting process, Democratic Party leaders, including former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee, have promoted fair district lines and non-partisan commissions.
Holder in a statement, said Sununu’s veto is “completely unacceptable” and a missed opportunity to join Democrats and Republicans in creating “a more representative democracy and put the interests of the people ahead of politicians.”
“The people of New Hampshire deserve a transparent, independent redistricting commission designed to redraw the electoral maps fairly — not favoring either party,” Holder continued. “The fight to end gerrymandering should transcend political ideology. People from both parties agreed with this. Governor Sununu has shown that he’s out of step and unable to look past narrow political interests.”
Heading into 2021, Republicans appear poised to once again gerrymander and leave the process up to the lawmakers themselves.
Next week, the shadowy group that crafts far-right legislation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, at its annual meeting in Austin, Texas, will host a pair of closed-door workshops teaching state lawmakers the basics of ‘redistricting.’ Government watchdog groups warn those panels will in reality teach them how to gerrymander and pair them with the mapmakers that can help them draw partisan lines.
Last year, ALEC created a model resolution that reaffirmed “the right of state legislatures to determine electoral districts” instead of the courts.
And former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) — who helped usher Wisconsin’s extreme gerrymandered districts in 2011 and is now leading the GOP’s redistricting efforts in 2021 as the finance chair of the National Republican Redistricting Trust — has also claimed that rural residents should be counted more than urban residents when the maps are drawn.