Public Information Office

Case Summary

July 26, 2002

 

Full text of opinion, and appendices, including maps and population reports are available in the following files:


2002-0210, Representative Peter A. Burling & a. v. Gene Chandler, Speaker of the House & a. (House redistricting)

The New Hampshire Supreme Court, saying it had been "drawn reluctantly" into a legislative task, today established a plan for 88 new house districts which the court said reinstates the fundamental constitutional principle that every citizenís vote will have equal weight.

The new court plan:

* Retains the same number of representatives (400) and sets the ideal population for a voting district at 3,089 people (the state population of 1,235,786 citizens divided by 400 representatives).

*Creates 88 single and multi-member voting districts no more than 5 percent above or below the ideal population number intended to meet the one person/one vote standard. The range of deviation is approximately 9 percent.

* Keeps town and ward lines intact and preserves county boundaries.

*Eliminates so-called "floterials," which have been described as districts that "float" above several districts. The justices said today that the "floterials," which have been used as a redistricting device in recent decades, create "voting right inequities."

The courtís unanimous opinion was issued per curiam, meaning "by the court." All four justices contributed to the writing of the opinion. The names of the participating justices are listed at the end of the decision, in order of seniority on the court.

In a separate order, the court said the filing period for House candidates will commence on July 31, and close on August 9.

The justices said in the opinion released today that while they attempted to create as many true single-member districts as possible, the "mathematical reality" is that only a few towns have a population close to the ideal district size of 3,089 people.

The court held that the deviation range in its plan achieves the constitutional standard of "substantial equality."

The court said it took into consideration the fact that New Hampshire had the largest state House of Representatives in the country, but also one of the smallest populations. That means a small number of people can affect the deviation substantially (in New Hampshire 154 people constitutes a 5 percent deviation from the ideal district population), the court said.

Moreover, the justices said when they tried to reduce the range of deviation further, they discovered it would require dividing towns and wards, which is specifically prohibited by the state constitution.

If some town or ward boundaries were ignored in order to further reduce the range, the court said there would be "no principled basis" for deciding to keep the remaining town and ward boundaries intact. Ignoring those local boundaries and creating 400 single-member districts statewide would have resulted in little or no population deviation, but, the court said, such a "radical" redistricting of the house was not required in this case to meet the constitutionís one person/one vote principle and would have violated other constitutional provisions.

The court said that the range of deviation in its plan for 88 districts and 400 House seats, is the lowest that could be achieved while:

a) adhering to the one person/one vote principle

b) keeping town and ward lines intact, as the state constitution requires

c) preserving the traditional redistricting policy of maintaining county boundaries

d) creating districts that are composed of contiguous areas

The court, in its 19-page opinion, recognized that its new plan changes house districts "significantly." But the justices said the changes were "unavoidable, because past house districting plans have not given the fundamental democratic principle of one person/one vote the attention and weight to which it is entitled."

The court wrote that its scrutiny of the process revealed "significant anomalies, perpetuated for many years in the legislative redistricting process, which have undermined the principles of equality upon which the New Hampshire House of Representatives was founded."

"Rather than protecting the peopleís constitutional right to Ďone person/one vote,í a system has evolved that falls far short of that ideal," the court said.

In rejecting redistricting plans that were submitted by the parties, the court said all the plans were based on incorrect population data, that they all "deviate substantially" from the one person/one vote principle, and all "openly embrace political agendas."

"While political considerations are tolerated in legislatively-implemented redistricting plans," the court said, "they have no place in a court-ordered plan."

"We are indifferent to political considerations, such as incumbency or party affiliation. The plan we establish restores as near equal weight as possible to the votes of the people of New Hampshire," the court said.

The justices noted that it was the first time in the history of the state that the Supreme Court had been required "to scrutinize the process of apportioning the peopleís right to vote in the election of representatives."

The court established a Senate redistricting plan on June 24. For both cases, the court appointed Bobby Bowers, Director of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board Office of Research and Statistics, as its technical advisor. Bowers aided the court in understanding technical aspects of the redistricting plans.

In rejecting the use of floterials in the House plan established today, the court said that device can cause "substantial deviations" from the one person/one vote principle.

The court noted that while it was able to use the 1992 Senate redistricting plan as a benchmark in the Senate redistricting case, it was unable to use the 1992 house plan because that plan had a deviation of at least 49 percent and was of "dubious constitutionality" at the time it was adopted.