A group of Democratic voters and public figures are suing New Hampshire’s secretary of state over the state’s newly drawn districts for Senate and Executive Council, arguing they are designed to benefit Republicans.
In a May 6 lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Superior Court, 12 plaintiffs claim the lawmakers drawing the districts used gerrymandering techniques to consolidate likely Democratic voters into specific districts and reduce their voting power.
The group filed the lawsuit the same day that Gov. Chris Sununu signed the bills authorizing the districts into law.
“Apparently distrustful of the choices that New Hampshire voters will make at the polls, the General Court has decided for itself which party will control the Senate and Executive Council, rather than allowing the voters to freely choose the representatives they prefer,” the lawsuit states.
The newly drawn maps reallocate towns into the state’s 24 Senate districts and five Executive Council districts. Sununu had previously criticized one district in the current map: Executive Council District 2, which snaked from the Vermont border to the Maine border and lumped together a number of Democratic voting towns along the way. The new Executive Council map eliminates that district but still lumps some Democratic strongholds together into one district, including Keene, Concord, and Hanover.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that New Hampshire is a “purple” state with divided voters that traditionally produces competitive statewide elections between Democrats and Republicans. The new Senate maps, however, would create 16 majority Republican-leaning districts out of 24 total, plaintiffs argue. If Republicans were to win those 16 districts, they would control a supermajority in the Senate and could overturn any gubernatorial veto, the lawsuit notes.
Plaintiffs say the Executive Council map creates an advantage for Republicans in four out of the five districts. That result was achieved by “surgically grabbing Democratic strongholds while carefully excluding Republican-leaning municipalities in the same areas,” the lawsuit states.
“Under both plans, Republicans can attain overwhelming control of the Senate and Executive Council even if they amass less than half of the statewide vote,” the lawsuit argues.
Currently, Republicans control the Executive Council, 4-1, and the Senate, 14-10. Both chambers have flipped between Democratic and Republican control since the lines were last drawn in 2010.
Plaintiffs argue the maps violate the free and equal elections clause of the state constitution (Part I, Article 11), the equal protection clauses (Articles 1, 10, and 12), and the constitution’s free speech protections.
The plaintiffs include a college student in Dartmouth, who says he has been “packed” into a district of largely Democratic towns; a college professor in Andover, who says Democrats in his area were “cracked” into numerous surrounding districts to dilute their power; Palana Hunt-Hawkins, a Rochester city councilor; and Terie Norelli, the former Democratic speaker of the House. They are represented by Paul Twomey, a longtime progressive lawyer, as well as attorneys from McLane Middleton, Elias Law Group, and Perkins Coie.
The lawsuit was filed days after the New Hampshire Supreme Court heard oral arguments May 4 in a separate lawsuit against proposed redistricting maps for the state’s two U.S. House seats. Sununu has vowed to veto both proposed maps from the House, arguing they are not competitive enough.