CONWAY — Selectmen Tuesday joined the municipal budget committee in recommending a petitioned warrant article to ask the state to consider a new method for drawing political maps.
Erik Corbett, the man behind the petition locally, said, "I don't think either party should be in charge of redrawing the maps and essentially picking their voters.
"There are some really funky districts drawn in the southern part of the state," he said.
Voting districts in New Hampshire are redrawn every 10 years. The last time they were set was in 2012.
The petition was created "to see if the town will urge that the New Hampshire General Court, which is obligated to redraw the maps of political districts within the state following the 2020 census, will do so in a manner that ensures fair and effective representation of New Hampshire voters."
It also requests that the New Hampshire General Court (the Legislature) "shall appoint an independent redistricting commission that draws the new district maps in a way that does not rely on partisan data such as election results or party registration or favor particular parties or candidates."
It also asks that, within 30 days of the vote, "the record of the vote approving this article shall be transmitted by written notice from the selectmen to the Town of Conway's state legislators and to the governor of new Hampshire informing them of the instructions from their constituents."
Residents will have the chance to discuss the petition (Article 42 on the warrant) at deliberative session on March 4. They will then get the opportunity to vote it up or down at the polls on April 14.
Corbett, who is past Carroll County Democrats chair, said an effort is afoot to have this article placed on warrants and ballots across the state.
Corbett, who moved from Bartlett to Conway last year, said there was a bill last year in the Legislature to do the same thing, but the governor vetoed it.
He said another bill is in the Senate right now, and these petitions are aimed at putting pressure on the governor.
At the Tuesday selectmen's meeting, Selectmen's chair David Weathers asked why the group was asking for this.
"Previously, redistricting, gerrymandering if you will, was done by partisan committees," said Carl Thibodeau. "Some districts ended up with district boundary lines redrawn in favor of one or the other political party. This is an attempt to redraw the districts and from what I'm reading, I believe this is going to be based on census data, period."
Thibodeau, a well known Republican, added "it's probably a good thing."
Selectman Mary Carey Seavey thought the state already figured out how to redraw the lines.
Thibodeau and others said the methodology could be changed.
She was also told a bill to do the same thing had been vetoed.
Selectmen voted 5-0 to support the article.
Two budgeteers — Elin Leonard and David Jensen — signed the petition.
"Essentially, it's saying that political parties should not be the decision-makers," Leonard said. "It's saying that redistricting should happen by population shifts but it shouldn't be a political thing. It should be neutral."
Conway budgeteers voted 7-2-5 to support Corbett's petition.
Voting in favor were John Edgerton, John Colbath, Frank Jost, Leonard, Sullivan, Michael Fougere and Sara Verney. Voting against were LeFebvre and Terry McCarthy. Abstaining were Dian Ryan, Eric Dziedzic, Greydon Turner, Michael Tetreault and Jensen.
Meanwhile, former speaker of the House Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett), who has been involved in several redistricting efforts, said such a proposal would be unconstitutional because the state constitution says it is the Legislature's job to draw the districts.
"That's a high hurdle to overcome," said Chandler in a Feb. 13 phone interview. He has been on the past two or three House redistricting committees and explained that bipartisan committees of lawmakers (one for the House and one for the Senate) draw the political lines. A majority of the committee is made up of whichever party is in control of that body.
The committees would coordinate to draw lines for the executive council and congressional districts. They draft bills that then go through the normal legislative process, getting approvals from both chambers before being signed by the governor.
"I think it's worked well for a number of years," said Chandler of the current process. "No matter who does it, there would be complaints," he added.