Redistricting by State Moves Andover into Larger Districts

By Ken Wells

Readers have probably heard on the evening news about “redistricting” in New Hampshire by the party controlling the State House, but have not realized the effect it will have on Andover. Future court action this summer will likely determine the final shape of New Hampshire’s Senate, Executive Council, and US Congressional districts, but the New Hampshire House Districts have already been redrawn and signed into law by the Governor – a done deal. 

Andover’s voting district has changed to Merrimack District 5 and has been enlarged by the addition of more towns. The towns in District 5 are Hill, Danbury, Andover, Salisbury, and Webster. That’s not all – Andover voters will now also vote to choose a Representative for District 26, which will include the towns of Hill, Andover, Salisbury, Webster, Boscawen, Canterbury, and Loudon.

Back in 1860, the good old house where my wife and I live belonged to a man named Elbridge Gerry Emery. He was named, no doubt, after the famous statesman Elbridge Gerry, born in 1744, who was the fifth Vice President of the United States and a leader of the Democratic-Republican Party of the day.

In spite of his many fine, but unfortunately largely forgotten achievements (such as signing the Declaration of Independence), Elbridge Gerry became eternally notorious for inventing the “gerrymander.” His gerrymandered districts were imagined by critics to resemble a squiggling salamander, wiggling across the map.

In redrawing districts, Gerry and his cronies sought to redraw new political boundaries snaking out from their hometowns, creating artificial collections of supportive voters to ensure their reelection, while pushing their opponents into districts where they would be outnumbered. “Gerrymandering” is the name given to this anti-democratic ploy used by incumbent politicians to redraw their districts to “pick their voters,” rather than allowing a simple majority of voters the freedom to pick their representatives. 

The new 2022 House districts will result in Andover citizens voting for three Representatives: two House Reps for District 5, and one in District 26. It’s going to be a procedure that many citizens may find confusing, as the ballot instructions will undoubtedly be a bit more complicated than they have been in the past.

Why has this happened? In theory, there should be one New Hampshire House Representative for each 3,500 people across the state, roughly. Our new enlarged District 5 has about 8,000 people, hence two Reps will certainly be chosen, but there will be yet more voters left over. Representation of those 1,000 people will be shared by creation of an overlapping “floterial” District  26, which includes most of District 5 plus Boscawen (population 4,000); Canterbury (population 5,600); and Loudon (population 5,600). In effect, Andover voters will have the opportunity to vote for three Representatives to the House.

In my opinion, creation of these overly-large, overlapping House districts (which exasperatingly bear little relation to the separately gerrymandered jigsaw districts for Senate, Executive Council, and US Congressional districts) make it much more difficult for voters to get to know their candidates. 

Voters want to make informed decisions for local representatives who represent our shared local interests, such as good local public schools, lower property taxes, and free and fair elections. The larger the districts, the more difficult it will be for townspeople to meet those candidates in person, and the more likely that non-local media such as TV and internet will be used to influence the outcome of local elections.

As prospective legislators announce their candidacies in June, I urge voters to pay close attention, and watch how these gerrymandered boundaries shift during the summer months approaching the coming elections. Keep an eye on future issues of the Beacon for updates.