Senate, Exec Council redistricting plans survive challenge

Oct. 6—NASHUA — A Superior Court judge dismissed Wednesday the lawsuit Democratic activists and other voters brought, challenging the constitutionality of redistricting plans the Republican-led Legislature created for the state Senate and Executive Council.

A group of 10 residents including former House Speaker Terie Norelli, D-Portsmouth, charged the redistricting plans were "partisan gerrymanders that defy the basic principles of representative government."

The suit argued the new maps violated the Bill of Rights in the New Hampshire Constitution that guarantees every citizen has an "equal right to vote."

But Hillsborough County Superior Court South Judge Jacalyn Colburn said the Bill of Rights made no mention of redistricting matters.

She said the only sections that apply to redistricting were Part 2, Article 26 for the state Senate and Part 2, Article 60 for the Executive Council and they merely require election districts be as "nearly equal" as possible.

Redistricting remains a legislative power, and courts must "tread lightly in this political arena," the judge said.

Under the redistricting plan (SB 240), the smallest of 24 Senate districts had 55,947 residents and the largest district had 60,252.

This means the districts have a population deviation of 7.5% that was within the 10% standard for maps that courts have upheld in previous decades, the judge said.

The population deviation for the five Executive Council maps under that redistricting plan (SB 241) was 1.26%.

Judge: Other states adopted stiffer criteria

Judge Colburn noted other states have adopted additional criteria that must apply to their redistricting plans, but New Hampshire lawmakers have chosen not to do that.

Gov. Chris Sununu has twice vetoed legislation to give redistricting authority over to an independent commission whose plans would then have gone to lawmakers for an up-or-down vote.

Attorney General John Formella said he was glad this ruling came down to resolve this matter well before the general election on Nov. 8.

"We take issues related to our elections very seriously here in New Hampshire," Formella said.

"I greatly appreciate the work by members of my office, including our election law unit and our civil litigation unit, in defending the statutes passed by the Legislature," Formella said.

The activists bringing this suit have until Oct. 15 to ask the judge to reconsider her ruling.

They can also appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

klandrigan@unionleader.com