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Across the country, new congressional maps with new lines drawn to create districts that will stand for the next 10 years. In many states, it’s a contentious issue, including where WBUR’s Anthony Brooks went to file this report.
ANTHONY BROOKS, BYLINE: New Hampshire is a purple state that has had a blue streak in recent years. Democrats have won the last five presidential races here. Both U.S. senators are Democrats, and Democrats hold both seats in the House. But Republicans control the state legislature, and their plan to dramatically redraw the map of the state’s Congress has outraged Democrats and suffrage advocates. At a recent public hearing in the state capitol in Concord, only one person spoke in favor of the plan. Everyone else, including Corinne Dodge of Derry, opposed it.
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CORINNE DODGE: And all so that the majority party has an unfair advantage in winning elections for the next 10 years. No political party should do this to voters.
BROOKS: At stake is a Republican plan to move dozens of cities and hundreds of thousands of voters from district to district. The result would be a Democratic-leaning district that wraps around a Republican-leaning district, helping Republicans win back one of the congressional seats.
Is it gerrymander?
BARBARA GRIFFIN: I don’t think it’s gerrymandered.
BROOKS: This is Barbara Griffin, a Republican state representative who led the House effort to redraw the map. Griffin said, following the last census, the plan ensures that the two districts have an equal number of voters.
GRIFFIN: One of the tenets of redistricting is that you don’t protect office, much to the dismay of many people who walk into the voting booth or get elected.
BROOKS: Republicans argue that having two less competitive districts will mean New Hampshire representatives will stay in office longer and gain more influence in Washington. In the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure law, New Hampshire was the last to be funded, according to State Rep. Ross Berry, a Republican.
ROSS BERRY: Because our members of Congress are not able to climb the ranks of leadership. Under this plan, we will have more stable members of Congress who can defend us and bring him back.
BROOKS: The New Hampshire GOP chairman promised last year that his party would send a Republican to Congress in the next election. This map would make that more likely and help Republicans retake the House. Democrats, including state Rep. Matt Wilhelm, say this is a brazen example of gerrymandering.
MATT WILHELM: Those would be the most dramatic changes to our state’s congressional maps in the past 140 years.
BROOKS: Wilhelm argues that the Republican map would discourage people from voting because districts would be less competitive and make it harder for moderates to win.
WILHELM: I think we’re going to see some really extreme candidates emerge from partisan primaries who then have a clear path to victory in the general election.
BROOKS: Similar fights are unfolding across the country, says Michael Li, senior attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice. In a hyperpartisan era where control of the House is at stake, both parties seek an advantage. But the Republicans have a big advantage because they control most state legislatures by redrawing the maps. Li says New Hampshire’s Republican map stands out because it would move more than a quarter of the state’s population from one district to another.
MICHAEL LI: Anytime you see large population movements like that, it’s a huge red flag. It’s, like, kind of an immediate signal that you need to take a closer look under the hood.
BROOKS: Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu urged lawmakers to amend the Republican proposal, but he refrained from threatening to veto it, which has critics worried. The New Hampshire House approved the plan and sent it to the state Senate, which could decide in the coming days. The outcome of future elections depends on what happens next.
For NPR News, I’m Anthony Brooks in Concord, NH
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