Gerrymandered districts favored GOP in Executive Council and Senate races
Nov. 12 – Republicans emerged from Tuesday’s midterm elections with strong control of the NH Executive Council and the state Senate, even though Democratic candidates for those two bodies got more votes than their competitors of the GOP.
A majority of votes did not translate to control of the council or Senate because Republicans gerrymander districts or lured them to their party’s advantage, the University’s political science professor said Friday. of New Hampshire, Dante Scala.
“It was very clear when Republicans drew the maps of the Senate and the Executive Council of the state that they were doing it for the sake of partisan advantage,” he said. “There was no doubt.
“It was clearly intended to ensure that the Democrats would have to do particularly well to secure a majority, and the Democrats did well on Tuesday, but not so well.”
On the five-member Executive Council, which shares executive power with the governor, the only Democrat before and after the election was Cinde Warmington of Concord.
Her 2nd District, which includes much of the Monadnock area, is gerrymandering to maximize the number of Democratic voters so other districts are more heavily Republican, she said.
Warmington beat NH Sen. Harold French, R-Canterbury, 74,107 to 49,428, but the other four board races were much closer. A tally of all votes for the five Democrats vying for the panel was about 1,500 more than the Republican vote total.
“The reality is that we really are a 50-50 state,” she said. “I think that’s pretty much been demonstrated. We’re a purple state, but we’re 80 percent Republican on the Executive Council.
“There is nothing more gerrymander in this state than the Executive Council.”
All of the incumbent Executive Council Republicans won re-election on Tuesday: Joseph Kenney of Union, Janet Stevens of Rye, Theodore Gatsas of Manchester and David Wheeler of Milford, whose district includes several towns in the Monadnock area.
Like the Executive Council, the partisan composition of the NH Senate did not change this election. The 14-10 split in favor of the GOP will continue.
This is despite the fact that Democratic Senate candidates garnered about 6,000 more votes than their Republican competitors overall.
Meanwhile, incumbent US Democratic Representatives Annie Kuster of Hopkinton and Chris Pappas of Manchester have both won re-election. Republicans also wanted to gerrymander those neighborhoods, Scala said.
But GOP Gov. Chris Sununu vetoed a Republican-backed congressional redistricting bill, saying he liked political competition. A court then established new congressional district boundaries that closely resembled the old ones.
The governor approved Republican-backed redistricting plans for the Executive Council, NH Senate and NH House this year. Redistricting is done every 10 years after the US census. The party that controls the Legislature, in the case of New Hampshire during the last session, the GOP, influences the process.
Sununu’s veto of the congressional redistricting bill did not sit well with some members of his party.
“I’m sure there are a lot of House Republicans right now who are like, ‘Well, see, I told you. If we had drawn the 1st Congressional District the way we wanted, maybe Karoline Leavitt would be the next Congresswoman,” Scala says.
Pappas beat Leavitt, of Hampton, 167,391 to 142,229.
NH Representative Ross Berry, R-Manchester, worked on the redistricting bill which Sununu vetoed.
Berry said the proposal would have made the race between Pappas and Leavitt more competitive, but it might not have changed the outcome.
However, he also said it was possible that a more right-leaning district might have attracted different candidates or increased Leavitt’s campaign funding, and those factors could have had consequences.
Berry said New Hampshire has concentrated Democratic-friendly areas and large Republican-leaning swaths of the state.
“When you look at the card, it’s a red card with deep blue pockets inside,” he said. “It’s hard not to draw a Republican map for the Senate.”
Gerrymandering is something both political parties have done over the years, and of course it’s not the only factor in an election, said Scala, a political science professor at UNH.
“We can talk about the quality of the candidates, and tenure is a real advantage,” he said. But he pointed out that gerrymandering puts Democrats at a disadvantage ahead of the first vote in New Hampshire’s midterm elections.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “From the start, was it a level playing field? No, it wasn’t.”
Rick Green can be reached at [email protected] or 603-355-8567.