New Hampshire governor vetoes bipartisan bill to ward off gerrymandering

The measure called for an independent commission to draw voting maps that wouldn't offer one political party a baked-in advantage.

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By Jane C. Timm

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, vetoed a bipartisan bill Friday that would have created an independent redistricting commission to draw the state's voting maps.

The bill would have asked a commission made up of 15 citizens — five Republicans, five Democrats, and five unaffiliated members — to draw the maps used for legislative, congressional, and Executive Council districts. Politicians would still vote to approve those maps, but they wouldn't be allowed to draw the lines themselves, according to The Union Leader.

While the Granite State doesn't have the kind of crazy-looking districts that have made headlines elsewhere in the nation, there's still signs of gerrymandering, something supporters of the measure had hoped the commission would reduce. New Hampshire Public Radio analyzed 30 years of election data, and found consistent Republican advantage in the district maps.

"In the 11 state elections since 1994, Republicans have often come out with 10 to 15 percent more seats in the Senate than a neutral map would have yielded. The imbalance has been particularly stark over the past three elections," the outlet wrote in their analysis.

Redistricting, or the process of drawing new electoral boundaries, happens every ten years after the Census is taken, readjusting district maps to account for population changes.

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During the lead-up to the last round of redistricting, New Hampshire was targeted by REDMAP, a conservative group seeking to pack legislatures with Republicans who would draw conservative-leaning districts. When New Hampshire swung to the right in 2010, the group declared victory.

In his veto Friday, Sununu joined a Republican minority in the House in opposing the bill, arguing that gerrymandering wasn’t a problem.

"The members of the commission proposed by House Bill 706 would be unelected and unaccountable to the voters. New Hampshire citizens put their trust in elected officials when they cast a ballot for them," Sununu wrote in a letter announcing his decision. "Legislators should not abrogate their responsibility to the voters and delegate authority to an unelected and unaccountable commission selected by political party bosses."

State Rep. Marjorie Smith, a Durham Democrat, wrote the bill to create an independent redistricting commission with help from The Brennan Center, a nonpartisan law and policy institute.

Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel for the Brennan Center, told NBC News they would encourage lawmakers to try and override the governor’s veto, citing the broad support for the bill.

“Both parties are willing to disarm and commit to not using the redistricting process to bake in a partisan advantage, it’s a really good time to take up that opportunity and pass the reform,” he said.

Sununu claimed that an out-of-state group — seemingly referring to former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee, who co-wrote a recent opinion article in support of the law — was “pushing” for the effort in order to benefit Democrats, thus undermining the bill’s “stated goal of creating “fair” electoral districts.”

Rudensky dismissed this claim.

“I can tell you as someone who was involved in this. They had no role," Rudensky said of Holder's group.

Support for creating an independent redistricting commission was “organic,” he said.

“There wasn’t money in it, there wasn’t a big campaign infrastructure that existed, it was just an issue that the people in New Hampshire cared about,” he told NBC News on Friday afternoon. “People feel alienated from the political process and the political system and people want to reexamine the systems of democracy and make sure there are checks and balance.”