GOP seeks major overhaul of New Hampshire congressional map

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire Republicans on Thursday released a redistricting plan that would transform the state’s 1st Congressional District into one that favors their party, instead of a swing district where Democrats have made recent gains. But it also would solidify the Democrats’ advantage in the 2nd District.

“This map would virtually eliminate two-party competition for New Hampshire’s congressional seats for the next decade,” said University of New Hampshire political science Professor Dante Scala. “It would create a Blue Hampshire seat and a Red Hampshire seat.”

Under the current map, the 1st District covers the eastern part of the state and some of the south, including Manchester. The 2nd District covers the western, northern and some southern communities, including Nashua.

With the latest U.S. Census figures showing the 1st District with about 18,000 more residents than the 2nd, Democrats on the House Special Committee on Redistricting propose making just one change: moving the town of Hampstead from the 1st District to the 2nd.

But Republicans, who control the Legislature, on Thursday proposed significant changes, creating a 1st District that climbs up from the southeast corner through the middle of the state, with the 2nd District reaching up and around it.

Republican strongholds in southern New Hampshire including Salem, Hudson, Windham and Atkinson would move into the 1st District, while Seacoast communities including Portsmouth, Rochester, Dover and Durham and surrounding towns would shift to the 2nd.

“Can you tell me why we don’t adopt the principle of, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?’” asked Rep. Marjorie Smith, D-Durham, adding that moving one town would keep both districts competitive in recognition that New Hampshire is a purple state.

But Rep. Ross Berry, R-Manchester, said he considers the current map broken, because it divides communities along the southern tier.

“It’s time that all that area gets put together,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, a Democrat, is in her fifth term representing the 2nd District, while fellow Democrat Chris Pappas is in his second term in the 1st District. Democrats have won the last three elections there, but before that, it swung back and forth between the parties multiple times.

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, called the map blatant gerrymandering.

“The people of New Hampshire should choose their elected officials, not the other way around,” she said in a statement. “Every Granite State voice should be heard and valued equally when they cast their ballot. This map aims to prevent that.”

Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, acknowledged that “political considerations” were a factor.

“Of course they were. This is a political process. That’s why it’s done by the Legislature,” he said.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed bills in 2020 and 2019 that would have created an independent redistricting commission, saying it was unnecessary because gerrymandering is rare in the state and the current redistricting process was fair. He said Thursday he will look closely at the proposals and “await further revisions.”

“This is the first round of maps that the public is seeing, and there are still many steps left in this democratic process,” Sununu said.