Do the votes of New Hampshire residents count? Is the result already determined before your vote is cast?
The Jonathan Daniels Center for Social Responsibility hosted a virtual webinar about redistricting and how it influences voting.
The webinar took place on November 19 and allowed attendees to hear from League of Women Voters of New Hampshire Co-President Liz Tentarelli and Democratic New Hampshire Representative Marjorie Smith of Strafford 6 district. The pair of women spoke about why New Hampshire residents need to be aware of redistricting and gerrymandering.
“Gerrymandering is nothing new,” Liz Tentarelli said.
Tentarelli said that the term ‘gerrymandering’ comes from Elbridge Gerry, a former Massachusetts governor in the early 19th century. According to the New York Times, Gerry signed a bill which allowed his party to draw State Senate districts that would favor his party’s candidates over the opposing party. According to the New York Times, one of the districts drawn looked like a salamander and a Boston cartoonist labeled the district as the “gerry-mander.”
Tentarelli said gerrymandering is about drawing legislative districts in peculiar ways for partisan advantage or advantage in racial minorities. She added that the districts are drawn so that the party in power will have overall advantage in the state.
“The result is predestined by the design of the district for the other party to win,” Tentarelli said.
Tentarelli added that every 10 years the state of New Hampshire has a census and the legislature will draw new districts so that the state is evenly divided in a way so that each district should have the same population within a 10 percent margin of error. When the lines are drawn, Tentarelli said the districts must be continuous, connected and uninterrupted. She added that the 2020 census was recently taken and the results are expected in the Spring.
Representative Smith commented that New Hampshire has a Republican governor, a Republican majority in both the state senate and house of representatives.
“The Republicans won and people say ‘to the victor goes the spoils,’” Smith said. “I say, to the voters belongs the right to fair and equitable districts. Voters need to make sure they voice that they want a fair system. We won’t get that unless voters voice their opinion.”
Representative Smith is a sponsor for New Hampshire House Bill 706 which proposes establishing an independent redistricting commission. According to the General Court State of New Hampshire website, the bill creates an independent redistricting commission to meet every 10 years starting in 2020. The bill states that the Secretary of State shall select 60 qualified individuals to form the committee and eventually that list of individuals is narrowed down to six. This committee is in charge of drawing new district lines. This bill was vetoed on August 9, 2019 and the veto was sustained on September 18, 2019.
Keene State College Political Science professor Dr. William Bendix said redistricting is an unavoidable and necessary aspect of a democracy.
“Any advanced democracy will go through a redistricting process because of population changes,” Bendix said.
Bendix added that partisan gerrymandering, the most common type of gerrymandering, is certainly problematic from a democratic standpoint.
“It allows a political party to redraw the map in a way that advantages them and disadvantages their rivals,” Bendix said.
Bendix said that in principle, he would strongly support the notion to establish an independent redistricting commission, though he said who sits on the commission is vitally important.
“Trying to establish a truly independent commission would be difficult but I would be in favor of that notion,” Bendix said.
At one point during the webinar, an attendee asked via the Q/A option what New Hampshire residents should do to ensure fair districts and what standing they have to make those requests.
“You should have standing as a resident and voter,” Smith said. “Make sure your representatives represent you and your interests and that they support fair and equitable districting.”
Tentarelli added that she hopes enough voters will stay in touch with their representatives and make a plea for fair mapping.
“It doesn’t matter what party you or your representatives are affiliated with– make the case,” Tentarelli said.
Tentarelli said that it is important that New Hampshire has fair district maps so that everyone’s vote still counts.
“Voting is the right by which we secure our other rights,” Tentarelli said. “When our rights are hushed by gerrymandering we lose our ability to exercise that right.”
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