As NH redistricting approaches, far-flung floterial districts unpopular even with their representatives

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/28/2021 9:30:34 PM
Modified: 8/28/2021 9:39:48 PM

WEST LEBANON — New Hampshire lawmakers preparing to redraw the state’s legislative maps are facing pressure to curtail one method of apportioning seats in the 400-member House: floterial districts.

The geographically large, multi-town districts that “float” over others were initially meant to offer smaller communities better representation in Concord.

But in reality, detractors argue, they snake across rural towns with few cultural ties, sometimes connecting communities that can only be traversed by dirt road or over water.

The system, which has been in place since 2012, results in one district stretching from Enfield to the Lakes Region, while another district that includes Canaan also covers several communities in the White Mountains.

“I think everybody hates them. I do, and I represent one,” Rep. Steven Smith, R-Charlestown, said in an interview on Tuesday.

His district in Sullivan County covers the town of Acworth, Charlestown, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster and Washington — a roughly 40-minute drive from one end to the other.

Smith, who is vice chairman of the House Special Committee on Redistricting, said he intends to prioritize the creation of more one-town districts over the coming months, possibly cutting up other multi-town districts that aren’t considered floterial.

Many of those suffer similar problems — large geographic ranges that encompass markedly different populations, he said. But, Smith warned, that effort might prove difficult, especially given declines in the state’s rural population, including most of the towns in his House district.

“It’s really going to have to come down to the math, how you can put it together and make sure everyone is equally represented,” he said.

Floterial districts were first made legal by way of a 2006 constitutional amendment approved by about 71% of the state’s voters. At the time, proponents said the change would break up big at-large districts that saw smaller communities lumped in with their larger neighbors.

That prediction was partially correct, and the move allowed more single-town or single-ward districts throughout New Hampshire.

But as a result, floterial districts had to be drawn to maintain a proper ratio of House members to residents. For instance, after lines were redrawn in 2011, Enfield got its own House seat. But it also joined a floterial district with another seat that includes Grafton, Alexandria, Ashland, Bridgewater and Bristol.

Rep. Joshua Adjutant, D-Enfield, represents that district and said it often confuses voters who don’t view themselves as a single community.

One part of the district — a roughly hourlong drive from end-to-end — largely revolves around Newfound Lake while the other is solidly within the Upper Valley, he said.

Adjutant said it’s also a “little nuts” trying to explain to voters on the campaign trail what a floterial district is, especially when the formula that created them is “indecipherable.”

“I think the party in power right now has a responsibility to try to create the fairest maps possible,” he said, adding that means giving towns that are large enough their own House seats.

Canaan is asking for just that. The town sits in two House districts, one floterial that stretches into the White Mountains and another that includes Dorchester and Wentworth.

In a letter to the House redistricting committee, the town’s Selectboard said it has a large enough population (3,794 residents) to warrant its own representative, given that an “ideal” district amounts to about 3,447 people.

The board also noted that Wentworth has “little in common with Canaan, and no direct road connecting those two communities.”

“Towns such as Canaan, with adequate population to require one or more state representatives, deserve the ability to send a local representative to Concord who is familiar with and can advocate for local concerns regarding taxation, education, infrastructure, and more,” the Selectboard wrote. “Currently, Canaan is robbed of that right.”

State Rep. Ned Gordon, R-Bristol, understands that frustration. Like Adjutant, his multi-town district runs from Ashland to include the Newfound Lake towns and Grafton.

“It doesn’t seem to me that when the district was created, a good deal of thought was given to how the district was constructed,” he said.

“Any person with common sense would say that Grafton, given that it’s in the Mascoma school district, should be combined with towns in that particular area,” added Gordon, a retired judge.

Gordon said he also intends to lobby the redistricting committee to form one-town districts as it starts the redistricting process, along with better drawing districts that adhere to cultural and regional lines.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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