A Republican-backed proposal to set new boundary lines for N.H. Senate districts amounts to partisan gerrymandering, according to people who testified at a Senate committee hearing on Monday.

No witness supported the Republican plan, Senate Bill 240, which critics said was designed to benefit the GOP. The Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee will accept more redistricting proposals before reaching a decision.

Senate District 10, which takes in Keene and a large swath of Cheshire County, would be changed under the Republican proposal.

It is now a squat district in far southwestern New Hampshire, extending from the Vermont border on the west, to Harrisville on the east, Alstead in the north and Winchester in the south.

Under the plan, it would be extended generally to the east to take in the Hillsborough County towns of Hancock and Peterborough. Hinsdale and Winchester would be removed from the district, and added to District 9, currently represented by Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford.

Sen. Jay Kahn, D-Keene, represents District 10. He said the proposal is aimed at consolidating Democrats within its boundaries so that other nearby districts now held by Republicans become even more friendly to the GOP.

“I think the Senate districts proposed in Senate Bill 240 are not in the best interest for Cheshire County,” he told the committee.

The best approach would be to draw compact districts of common interests where municipalities share affiliation by county, school district and commerce centers, he said.

Instead, the bill sets up districts by political party sentiment, Kahn said.

The Democratic minority on the committee also submitted a redistricting plan, which basically preserves the existing Senate District 10.

Much of the discussion before the committee seemed to be critical of the Republican plan and in favor of a bipartisan effort to draw a new map.

Kahn asked the committee to work together to draw up a non-partisan plan. Republicans make up a majority of the committee as well as the full Senate and the House.

“Political parties need to come together and develop one Senate redistricting map, the way a non-partisan commission might have if that Democratic proposal had been signed into law by Gov. Sununu,” Kahn said.

In 2019, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a bipartisan bill to create an independent commission to come up with the best way to redraw lawmakers’ districts.

Ten years ago, when Republicans were also in the majority, there were again public concerns about gerrymandering. One often-cited example from that process was the Executive Council District 2, which includes Keene and extends east all the way across the state to Somersworth.

It’s been called the “dragon district” or the “salamander district,” because of its geographic length. Critics say it was designed to be packed with Democratic voters, so the other four districts on the council could be controlled by Republicans.

Councilor Cinde Warmington, who represents District 2, is the only Democrat now on the Executive Council.

Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, represents Senate District 8, which takes in Langdon and Acworth on the west, Grantham on the north, and Weare and Francestown on the southeast.

She said in an interview Tuesday that it’s hard to take politics out of the redistricting process, since the law says the Legislature shall be in charge of it.

“If you could find a group not politically motivated to do it, that would be nice, but I don’t know if that would be possible,” Ward said. “I would go with the plan that the Republicans came up with. I don’t think it is perfect, but I would go with it.”

New districts are drawn up every 10 years based on updated population figures. Each of the state’s 24 Senate districts is required to have about the same number of people.

In New Hampshire, redistricting is done by the state Legislature and is subject to veto from the governor. Like other bills, both the House and the Senate participate in the process.

Rick Green can be reached at RGreen@KeeneSentinel.com or 603-355-8567.