After a slow, bumpy and contentious start, a bill that would create an independent redistricting commission is on its way to the Senate floor.
Senate Bill 15, a compromise bill sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, and hammered out in the Senate Rules Committee less than a week ago, earned a “do pass” recommendation from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday.
Four people — all advocates of open government and an independent redistricting commission — voiced support for the bill during the less than 10-minute hearing. No one spoke against it.
None of the committee members commented on the bill or asked questions.
The bill’s success is not totally assured. Not only does it have to clear the Senate, it also has to make its way through the House of Representatives, where it will likely go before at least one committee before it reaches the House floor for a final vote.
Ivey-Soto’s bill would create a seven-member panel to come up with a redistricting plan for the Legislature to approve by the end of the year. The proposal prohibits a majority of Democrats or Republicans from serving on that body and requires the commission to come up with three plans for the Legislature to consider during a special session that will take place later this year.
For an action that only needs consideration once every decade, the redistricting bill has become a high-profile piece of legislation this year.
Of the trio of redistricting bills introduced this year, two failed to gain much traction, leading advocates and critics to suggest lawmakers were hindering efforts to get the job done.
And House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said at least twice during the session that he would not support an independent redistricting commission, suggesting any such effort to push one through the House might face a barrier.
Egolf has since said he supports Ivey-Soto’s bill, and he signed on as a co-sponsor.
The stakes are high. Redistricting largely influences which party holds the majority in Congress and in the state Legislature.
Redistricting is required in every state once a decade, following the national census. Normally states would have U.S. Census Bureau data by now, but the pandemic has caused delays. That means states won’t get that information to start planning for redistricting until at least late September.
As a result, the New Mexico Legislature plans to convene a special session in November or December to select a final plan for new district maps for U.S. Congress, the 112 state legislative seats and the Public Education Commission, which oversees state-approved charter schools.
The goal of redistricting is to ensure the number of people in each voting district remains fairly equal as populations shift. Redistricting boundaries could affect which lawmaker represents which district.