For our first look at how House legal counsel Ed Mosca's admonitions last week might affect redistricting, let's go to Plymouth. It's an area I know well having spent the happiest days of my life at Plymouth State and then worked for eight years as a reporter for a newspaper covering some 15 or so towns in the area.
Plymouth poses a particularly vexing problem for redistricting since its population is 6990 which entitles it to 2.12 Representatives (6990 divided by 3291). If we were to simply give it two Reps as would appear to make sense, it would result in a deviation of plus 6.2 percent. If we follow Mosca's admonition that we stay within 10 percent, I look at that as plus or minus five percent since, in the real world of numbers, you are most likely going to find as many cases where you go under as over the ideal.
Thus for our purposes here, 6.2 percent is not acceptable.
So what could we do? If we put Plymouth in a district with other towns to produce a larger multiple of 3291 (a three or four member district for example), Plymouth will most likely dominate the district and potentially capture all the seats thus denying smaller towns representation contrary to the spirit of the New Hampshire Constitutional amendment.
It's even worse than that, however. All towns (except Campton) in the Plymouth area are less than 2500 people, so more than one would be required to create an acceptable multiple.
Campton, with 3333 people, is virtually ideal for its own Rep (a plus 1.2 percent deviation), but if we combined Plymouth and Campton in a three member district (10,323 people), we'd get an acceptable deviation of 4.6 percent.
This is a classic example of how larger district smooth out deviation problems. However, is it worth the cost?
In this example, Campton, which is entitled to one Rep of its own, could win up with none--Plymouth would conceivably gobble up all three. It's not even a partisan problem since all three would most likely be Democrats (Campton's current Rep Jim Aguiar is a Democrat and the two Plymouth Reps are Democrats).
Thus, here's the dilemma. Is it worth creating a three member district (Plymouth and Campton) simply to gain 1.6 percent better deviation?
My answer is no--give Plymouth two Reps and Campton one.
When I posed this dilemma to Attorney Mosca, he said you have to get down in the weeds, roll up your sleeves and work on other possibilities.
With all due respect, sir...counselor...some of us have been in the weeds for six months now...and have looked at most conceivable (albeit not all) combinations.
I continue to believe the 6.2 percent deviation could be justified, but let's be clear. It most likely means a 12.4 percent deviation overall (6.2 over and we'll likely find a similar need to go 6.2 percent under at least one other place).
This is what we're up against.
I believe deviation in excess of ten percent in limited circumstances could be justified.
This is one of those circumstances.