Court outlines approach if NH redistricting effort fails

May 12, 2022 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The task of redrawing New Hampshire’s two congressional districts shifted to a handful of lawmakers Thursday, while the state Supreme Court outlined its approach should that effort fail.

Democrats currently hold both U.S. House seats, but Republicans control the redistricting process required to bring the districts in line with population changes over the last decade. Lawmakers passed a plan in March that would benefit the GOP in the 1st District, but Republican Gov. Chris Sununu promised to veto it. He’s also criticized a plan the House passed last week that would clump together communities along the I-93 corridor and shift more than 40% of the population into a different district.

The Senate on Thursday refused to go along with that proposal, opting instead to set up a committee of conference to negotiate a compromise. The three Senate and four House appointees will have until May 19 to sign off on plan, with votes in both chambers by May 26.

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House Speaker Sherm Packard and Senate President Chuck Morse issued a joint statement saying they are confident negotiators will be “transparent, inclusive and ultimately successful in their efforts” and will create a map that is constitutional and fair.

Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court issued an opinion in a lawsuit brought by former House Speaker Terie Norelli and others last month. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that holding the 2022 elections under the current maps would violate the Constitution because of the changes in population, and said if the Legislature and governor remain at in impasse, it will use a “least change” approach in drawing the boundary lines.

The court said the special master it has selected for the case will use the existing districts as a benchmark.

“To the greatest extent practicable, each district should contain roughly the same constituents as the last validly enacted plan,” the court said. “It is preferable that the core of the districts be maintained, while contiguous populations are added or subtracted as necessary to correct the population deviations.”

Separately, Norelli and others have filed a second lawsuit challenging the state Senate and executive council district maps that Sununu recently signed into law. They argue that the maps favoring Republicans were “enacted with impermissible partisan intent.”

The filing period for candidates in the Sept. 13 primaries opens June 1.