FILE - New Hampshire State Capitol (House of Representatives)

The New Hampshire House of Representatives at the Capitol in Concord, New Hampshire.  

(The Center Square) – New Hampshire's Republican-controlled House of Representatives has approved a controversial plan redrawing the state's two congressional districts, brushing aside claims from Democrats and voting rights groups that the political maps were gerrymandered.

On Wednesday, the House passed legislation adopting the new congressional districts by 186-164 in a vote that went mostly along party lines with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it. The sharply divided vote came on the first day of the Legislature's 2022 session.

The reconfigured maps, which must still pass the Senate, would make the 1st Congressional District more Republican by shifting GOP-leaning communities along the Massachusetts border – including Salem and Windham – into the district.

The plan would make the 2nd Congressional District more Democratic by including Democratic-leaning communities, including Portsmouth, Rochester and Dover.

The 1st District is currently represented by Democrat Rep. Chris Pappas, while the 2nd District is represented by Democrat Rep. Annie Kuster. Both are facing challenges in next year's election. 

Voting rights groups criticized the House approval of the maps, accusing Republicans – who control the Legislature – of "gerrymandering" the congressional districts in their favor. 

Devon Chaffee, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said the redistricting plan "creates uncompetitive districts, safer seats for incumbents, and moves an unnecessary amount of residents from one district to another." 

"Every Granite State voice should be heard equally in our elections, with the voters themselves choosing their politicians – not the other way around," he said in an emailed statement. "The New Hampshire Senate must amend these maps to be fair for all Granite Staters – the foundation of our democracy is at stake." 

Democrats released their own proposal for the new congressional maps, which kept the districts largely unchanged from the current boundaries. But the House rejected the alternative plan before taking up the GOP's congressional redistricting plan.  

Rep. Matt Wilhelm, D-Manchester, who chairs the New Hampshire Democratic Party's Victory Committee, called the redistricting a "blow to voting rights in the Granite State, free and fair elections" and urged Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to veto the plan once it reaches his desk. 

"Let me be clear: these maps are putrid," he said. "If the Governor does not veto any gerrymandered map that comes across his desk, it will be a massive betrayal of public trust."

But Republican lawmakers defended the reconfigured districts, arguing that previous Democratic-led redistricting plans created uncompetitive congressional districts. 

"The map created by the majority does not create unfair advantages,'' state Rep. Robert Lynn, R-Windham, said in remarks ahead of Wednesday's vote. "In fact, it removes them."

The Constitution requires states to draw new congressional district lines every 10 years, following the census, to account for changes in their population. States also use those numbers to draw maps for their state legislative districts.

Between 2010 and 2019, the Granite State grew by about 4%, adding 57,600 new residents for a total population of 1,379,089, according to 2020 census data.

New Hampshire has 424 state legislators and two representatives in Congress, which won't increase or decrease based on the most recent census figures. 

The congressional redistricting plan now moves to the GOP-controlled state Senate, where the changes are also expected to pass largely along party lines.