By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
Lawmakers this week will decide a number of bills that will determine the state’s direction for the next 10 years.
If you are a Democrat, you can only lament the party’s dismal down-ticket showing in the last election.
But if you are a Republican, you can rejoice in an almost guaranteed majority that will be able to cement your agenda on the state for years to come.
This week the House will decide two things: vote on the new gerrymandered district maps for the state Senate and Executive Council and voter suppression bills to drive down the turnout of folks who do not vote Republican.
The House Special Committee on Redistricting held public hearings on Senate Bill 240, the new map for the state Senate districts and Senate Bill 241, which is the new map for Executive Council districts.
At the public hearings on the bills, last week, the only person to speak in favor of the new maps was the prime sponsor of both bills, Sen. James Gray, R-Rochester, who chairs the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee and the Senate Special Committee on Redistricting.
Everyone else from private citizens to advocates and organizational representatives panned the new districts.
The Executive Council map will likely produce a four-to-one Republican majority unless there is a fluke election while the Senate map will produce at least a 15-9 if not a 16-8 Republican majority, the latter of which would make it veto proof if a Democrat managed to win the governor’s seat at some point in the next decade. That is a possibility because you cannot gerrymander a statewide election.
What is wrong with Republicans controlling the Senate and the Executive Council you may ask, noting Republicans controlled both institutions for decades until the late 1990’s when the Senate went Democratic for the first time in recent history.
But in the last decade, both Republicans and Democrats have controlled the Legislature and the Executive Council.
Unlike those earlier times, today registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, although both are outnumbered by undeclared or independent voters.
No matter the number of registered party voters, the power of redistricting can be used to ensure your party remains in control even if you are not the largest affiliation.
The redrawing of the state Senate and Executive Council maps is a textbook example of how to do that.
It is a simple process, you pack the other party’s voters into districts that are fewer in number than the districts with your party’s voters in the majority.
The minority districts are extremely one-sided, while the majority districts are a little closer, but clearly advantage the majority party.
The new Executive Council districts suggest 80 percent of the voters favor Republicans, while the Senate map suggests two-thirds of voters favor Republicans, with the lowest number of members in the three categories of voters.
This arrangement is great for the Republican Party, but not so good for the state because the voices of the real majority of voters are drowned out or ignored.
The people of the state deserve better than the two bills going to go to the governor for his likely signature after Thursday’s House session.
The House Special Committee on Redistricting holds a public hearing Friday on a new configuration for the Congressional districts that is better than the thumb up the middle of the state the committee proposed. That significant change in the districts passed the House and the Senate until Gov. Chris Sununu said he would veto it.
Sununu proposed a rearrangement that makes the first district a little more Republican leaning than it was but also makes the second district more Democratic leaning.
The governor’s plan does not do the gerrymandering of the Senate and Executive Council districts.
Five voters including former House Speaker Terie Norelli sued over the House and Senate approved congressional map.
The Supreme Court this week took jurisdiction over the case from Hillsborough County Superior Court South, where the suit was filed and a scheduled set to hear the complaint.
The Supreme Court order said it would appoint a special master to handle the case unless the Legislature and governor agree on a plan, which they probably will.
You have to wonder, is someone doing a little judge or court shopping to look for a potentially more favorable venue if the governor’s proposal goes up in smoke.
The courts used to be above the politics, but that is not so true today on the federal and state level.
Another map that may find its way to the courts is for the House districts.
The new House district map, House Bill 50, which certainly gives Republicans the advantage, has already been signed by the governor and is law.
While many organizations tried to keep the heat on to ensure the process would be more transparent and fair. However, the last few months show no matter what you do, the party in power will do all it can to protect their majority power over the greater good of the state.
And if gerrymandering is not enough, there is voter suppression for an insurance policy to offset any unforeseen problems.
The House this week will vote on Senate Bill 418 which would require anyone voting or registering without a photo ID to cast an affidavit or what everyone else calls a provisional ballot, that is marked to identify the person who casts it.
The ballots would be counted separately, and the voter would have seven days to provide proof to the Secretary of State’s Office or the person’s vote will be deducted.
The bill drew significant opposition from active and former military personnel and their families, who worry their absentee ballots will not arrive in time for them to vote and have it count.
Other concerns were privacy, violating the agreement for same-day registration to avoid the motor voter act, and whether it is unconstitutional.
The House Election Committee changed the bill to make it apply only to someone registering to vote election day without a photo ID and put its effective date off until after the 2022 elections.
The committee voted down partisan lines to recommend the bill as amended and then passed.
Another bill, Senate Bill 427, would add “illness or other medical conditions” as a reason for requesting an absentee ballot. The bill would also streamline the processing of the ballots.
The committee voted down party lines to kill the bill. Why make it easier for someone to vote, if your goal is to keep the vote totals low.
Down party lines the committee voted 11-9 to kill the bill.
And Senate Bill 425 would establish an election information portal that would allow someone to register to vote or change their address and other information, but it too fell victim to a party line vote.
Both bills the committee wants killed passed the Republican controlled Senate before arriving at the House.
The map and voting bills show the tyranny of the minority as they do everything they can to hold their power.
The vocal proponents touting “voter integrity” are not looking in the mirror.
Garry Rayno may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Distant Dome by veteran journalist Garry Rayno explores a broader perspective on the State House and state happenings for InDepthNH.org. Over his three-decade career, Rayno covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat. During his career, his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. Rayno lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.