By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — What was once a bipartisan effort is now a partisan battle after a Senate committee voted down party lines to recommend killing a bill establishing an independent redistricting commission.
The bill would have had House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders choose the members from a field of applicants generated by the Secretary of State’s Office.
The commission’s final plan would have required legislative approval.
Similar bills passed the Legislature the past two years under Democratic control, but were vetoed by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.
After the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee’s 3-2 vote to kill the bill, sponsors said it would have expanded voters’ faith in elections and ended the gerrymandering of political districts in New Hampshire.
“More than ever, voters need to be assured that their vote counts, and that they are adequately represented in the Legislature,” stated Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Today’s vote by the committee’s Republican majority to kill this bill silences the citizens of New Hampshire and allows Republican party insiders and operatives to continue the partisan gerrymandering of our state.”
At last week’s public hearing on Senate Bill 80, Sherman and others referred to remarks last month by State Republican Party Chair Stephen Stepanek that the state would send at least one Republican to Congress in the next election because Republicans are the majority party in the Legislature and control redistricting.
The state currently has an all-Democratic Congressional delegation, with two Congressional districts that will be redrawn in light of the 2020 census data.
SB 80 had support from a number of organizations including the League of Women Voters, Open Democracy, and the Kent Street Coalition.
No one testified in opposition to the bill during the public hearing.
“We had the opportunity, with this legislation, to restore our constituents’ faith in democracy and to reiterate our commitment to representing them fairly, regardless of political party,” said bill sponsor Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, D-Portsmouth. “Without it, this next round of redistricting will be gerrymandered by those in power, and the citizens of New Hampshire will continue to be inadequately represented.”
Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Hampshire with more undeclared voters than either party, Republicans flipped control of the House, Senate, and Executive Council in the November election.
However, Democrats were able to maintain the two Congressional seats and the US Senate seat up for election.
Voting to kill the bill were Sens. James Gray, R-Rochester, Regina Birdsell, R-Hampstead, and Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, while Democrats Sens. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, and Perkins Kwoka voted in favor of passing the bill.
The bill will come before the full Senate later this month.
A similar bill is before the House.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.