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New Hampshire GOP proposes dramatic new congressional map, angering Democrats

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

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 the one where WBUR's Anthony Brooks went to file this report.

ANTHONY BROOKS, BYLINE: New Hampshire is a purple state that has been trending blue 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 state's congressional map has outraged Democrats and voting rights advocates. At a recent public hearing in the state capital in Concord, only one person spoke out in favor of the plan. Everyone else, including Corinne Dodge of Derry, opposed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORINNE DODGE: And all this so that the majority party will have an unfair advantage in winning elections for the next 10 years. No political party should do that to voters.

BROOKS: At issue is a Republican plan to shift dozens of towns and hundreds of thousands of voters from one district to the other. The result would be a Democratic-leaning district that wraps around a Republican-leaning district, helping Republicans win back one of the seats in Congress.

Is it gerrymandered?

BARBARA GRIFFIN: I don't think it's gerrymandered.

BROOKS: This is Barbara Griffin, a Republican state rep who led the effort in the House to redesign the map. Griffin says, following the last census, the plan ensures that the two districts have an equal number of voters.

GRIFFIN: One of the principles of redistricting is that you don't protect incumbency, much to the consternation of many people who hit the voting booth or are 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 last in funding, according to State Rep Ross Berry, a Republican.

ROSS BERRY: Because our congresspeople are not able to climb the ranks of leadership. Under this plan, we'll have more stable congresspeople that can advocate for us and bring it back.

BROOKS: The chairman of the New Hampshire GOP pledged 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: These would be the most dramatic changes in our state's congressional maps over the course of the last 140 years.

BROOKS: Wilhelm argues the Republican map would discourage people from voting because the districts would be less competitive and make it harder for moderates to win.

WILHELM: I think we're going to see really extreme candidates emerge out of partisan primaries who then have a clear path to victory in the general election.

BROOKS: Similar fights are happening all across the country, says Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. In a hyperpartisan age where control of the House hangs in the balance, both parties are looking for an advantage. But Republicans have a big edge because they control most state legislatures redrawing the maps. Li says the Republican map in New Hampshire stands out because it would shift more than a quarter of the state's population from one district to another.

MICHAEL LI: Whenever you see large population movements like that, it's a huge red flag. That's, like, an immediate sort of signal that you need to take a closer look under the hood.

BROOKS: New Hampshire's Republican governor, Chris Sununu, has urged lawmakers to alter the Republican proposal, but he stopped short of threatening to veto it, which worries critics. The New Hampshire House has approved the plan and sent it on 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, N.H.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUSTER'S "GOLD DUST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.