Representative Democracy?

One myth is that most people in New Hampshire know their state reps

Illustration by Peter Noonan

This is from a miscalculated belief that if you add politics as our state sport to the fact we have a State Representative for every 3,200 people then surely we know who is representing us in Concord. It simply isn't true, but with a redistricting process that is under way that could change a bit.

In the last decade not even political junkies could name all of their State Representatives. The way the lines were drawn by a court in 2002, 13 of the 103 House districts have at least seven representatives, meaning that voters have to pick the best seven candidates out of 14 options of both parties. Voters in Salem, Windham, Pelham, Hudson and Litchfield have it worst with 14 state representatives they have to pick! Given that most would have a hard time remembering seven items they need to buy at the grocery store it is almost inhuman to ask voters to remember the names of 14 people they don't know.

The result is that House elections this past decade have become impersonal and more expensive. It didn't matter how perfect candidates' voting records were for their districts, how rooted in the community they were or how many doors they knocked on during the campaign. Candidates' fates were determined by just two things: the partisan makeup of their district and the national political mood.

"In Ohio a Congressional district was redrawn in a way that it is only contiguous during Lake Erie's low tide."

In 2006 even the most deeply beloved and hardest-working Republican would lose if he or she were in a marginal swing district. Democrats were handed their biggest Statehouse wins ever because the state's independent voters wanted out of Iraq, and not knowing which of the 14 people on the ballot to vote for just voted for the Democrat. (Even though Concord had nothing to do with wars.) In 2010 economic anxiety led these same voters to vote for unknown Republicans to create jobs and end the new health care law. (Even though state legislators had no power to repeal federal laws.)

The Legislature will redraw these House districts this year. By definition it's an intensely political battle, but here are some important takeaways.

First, this system will get better. A 2006 bi-partisan constitutional amendment will create roughly twice as many districts with fewer representatives in each.

Second, however intense the battle it is nothing like what most states are going through. In Arizona and Texas there are court cases over their redistricting plans. In Ohio a Congressional district was redrawn in a way that it is only contiguous during Lake Erie's low tide. Our state constitution doesn't allow mapmakers to split up towns or city wards so they simply cannot be that creative.

Third, however the districts are drawn, candidates and campaigning will matter more since fates will be determined more about how people know and view candidates and not just their political parties.

This fall, who knows, maybe you'll know who your State Representative is once again, and under our quirky citizen legislature model, maybe it will be you or your neighbor.

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