For most of the 20th century, Granite Staters reliably voted Republican. Their governors, their state legislators, their delegations to Washington routinely came from the Grand Old Party.
Voter registrations helped tell the story. In 1980, fully 40 percent of Granite State voters listed themselves as Republicans, with all other voters split equally between Democrats and those who declared for no party.
That’s changed. Today only 29 percent of voters in the state are registered as Republicans, 31 percent claim Democratic affiliation and 39 percent are undeclared.
True, the undeclared category obscures the actual political preferences of voters who claim that status. But election results in New Hampshire in the last couple of decades convincingly illustrate that New Hampshire has indeed morphed from solid red to purple.
Evidence: Three of New Hampshire’s last five governors have been Democrats, and in every presidential election since 2004 Granite Staters have picked the Democratic candidate. The state’s four-member Washington delegation today is entirely Democratic, and at this time last year both chambers of the state Legislature were in Democrats’ hands.
So, Republicans’ hold on New Hampshire has diminished, but the party has shown that it can still pack a punch at the polls: resourceful campaigning by the GOP last November won it back the House, the Senate and the Executive Council.
That’s the way that winning campaigns ought to be conducted — by energetically connecting with voters on message and on the street.
But some Republican operatives apparently believe that something more needs to be done to win elections in this newly purple state — specifically, manipulating the shape of political districts to make it easier for their candidates to win.
Steve Stepanek, the head of the state Republican Party, said as much recently when he declared that the GOP will pick up a Congressional seat in 2022 after House districts are redrawn by the Republican-majority Legislature.
After reading Stepanek’s boast, I went looking for other opinion on the subject of redistricting. I came upon a veto message by Gov. Chris Sununu in 2019 concerning a bipartisan-backed bill that called for redistricting reform.
The governor said he was blocking the bill — it called for the creation of an independent redistricting commission — because he’d heard that Democrats would try to use such a commission to manipulate political district lines to their advantage. Sununu explained, “This is very concerning, and undermines [the bill’s] stated goal of creating ‘fair’ electoral districts.”
The conclusion here is that the redrawing of political district lines — it happens every 10 years — can lead to suspicions that one party or another will work the system to gain electoral advantage.
Acknowledging grounds for this suspicion, legislatures in 17 other states have successfully set up independent redistricting commissions to handle the realignment of political district boundaries.
This year, bills to create such a commission died in the N.H. Legislature; hence GOP leader Stepanek’s confidence that Republicans can manipulate Congressional district maps to flip a seat their way in 2022.
That leaves reformers with little option but to appeal for fairness — specifically via a bill that requires timely public proceedings and other government-in-the-sunshine accommodations in the redrawing of district lines this year. The spirit of openness expressed in Senate Bill 90 is endorsed in articles that’ll appear on more than 100 Town Meeting warrants this year that call for redistricting that’s public and fair.
But even that appeal isn’t assured of success. At a hearing on Senate Bill 90 this week, one senator said that the state’s right-to-know law already covers most of the bases, so why write a new law?
Well, during the last redistricting, 10 years ago, the state’s right-to-know law didn’t stop Republicans from reshaping district lines pretty much in the dark. How can the public be assured that the redistricting will be any better and fairer the next time around?