Leveraging Our Differences

Redistricting commission plan vetoed by N.H. governor

Gov. Chris Sununu has vetoed legislation that would have created an independent commission to draw New Hampshire's electoral boundaries.

A first principle of the democracy reform movement is that the job of electoral mapmaking must be taken out of the hands of the politicians running each state, because whether they're Republicans or Democrats their top priority will be gerrymandering the districts to perpetuate their own partisan advantage.

But the Republican governor, in the veto message released Friday, said the state Constitution gives elected officials — state legislators and the governor — the authority to draw lines for congressional districts, state legislative districts and members of the governor's executive council.

"The members of the commission proposed in House Bill 706 would be unelected and unaccountable to the voters," Sununu wrote.

His veto message also cited the fact that gerrymandering issues are extremely rare in New Hampshire — which has just two U.S. House seats to fill but also a whopping 400 seats in the state House — and that an unnamed outside group pushing for the legislation had as its mission to "favorably position Democrats for the redistricting process."

That phrase is used by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in one of its filings with the IRS. The advocacy group, formed by former Attorney General Eric Holder and supported by former President Barack Obama, believes the GOP has succeeded in recent years in skewing the map-drawing process to its favor and seeks reforms that give Democrats a fair chance.

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Holder called Sununu's veto "completely unacceptable" and, in a statement, said he "has truly revealed himself to be a captive of the special interests who fear the will of the people."

The legislation passed the solidly Democratic state House with the support of 16 Republicans, about 10 percent of the GOP members, but in the narrowly Democratic Senate the vote followed party lines.

The bill called for creating a commission comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and five independent citizens.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that federal courts have no role in determining the excesses of partisan gerrymandering but said the states were free to set their own rules or procedures to curb the practice.

In most states, the new boundaries are drawn every 10 years, after the census, through enactment of legislation. Fourteen states have put the process in the hands of commissions, with varying degrees of autonomy. The New Hampshire commission would have had the sole power to create the boundaries, although the maps could have been challenged in court.

In July, Sununu also vetoed four election transparency bills.