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.
“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.
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.