December 11, 2021

State House passes redistricting map supported by Indigenous communities

Proposed state House map as part of HB8 in the 2021 second special legislative session.

The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a bill Friday night adopting a redistricting map based on a consensus from Native American communities including Navajo Nation and the Pueblos. 

House Bill 8, which passed the chamber on a 43-23 vote, draws new lines for House districts and aims to correct past injustices, sponsor Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, said.

Supporters say Native American communities are traditionally undercounted in the U.S. Census and therefore underrepresented in the House of Representatives. They further pointed to the history of disenfranchisement for Native Americans, who only gained the right to vote in New Mexico elections in the late 1940s or, in the case of the Navajo people, the 1960s.

Ely explained that based on the population of the state, each district should have about 30,215 people. Anything below or above that is considered a deviation. 

The population is based on U.S. Census data, but there can be districts that are undercounted, especially in minority areas. 

Ely said the northwest quadrant of the state has traditionally been undercounted. HB8 has a negative deviation, or districts with fewer than 30,215 people, to account for the undercount in the northwest part of the state. The largest deviation is negative 6.9 percent.

Both Ely and Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, pointed out that pictures demonstrate that there are people living in areas that the census did not receive a response from anyone who lived there.

The census is conducted differently on Indigenous lands like Navajo Nation than in other parts of the state, in part because not everyone has an address and there is limited access to the internet. In most of the state, people received invitations to participate in the online census in the mail. But Native communities like Navajo Nation had census takers going door to door to conduct the count. The COVID-19 pandemic hindered those efforts.

Related: State House map backed by tribal governments heads to House floor

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, who voted against the bill, argued that HB8 would reduce the Hispanic voice in the state Legislature. As an example, he said HB8 splits the land grant community of Atrisco into different districts. 

“We have never, will never, split a Pueblo in half in redistricting. Why do we do it to a traditional Hispanic community?” he said.

Ely said that the number of Hispanic districts will actually increase under HB8.

Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, spoke about the diversity in New Mexico.

“Our state is changing, like most of our country,” she said, adding that the maps reflect those changes.

Corrales districts debated on House floor

House Minority Leader Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, introduced a floor substitute that would move four precincts to allow Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, an incumbent who has been in office for 19 years, to be elected once again in her district.

Corrales is split between two districts currently, represented by Powdrell-Culbert and Ely. HB8 would give Powdrell-Culbert all of Corrales, where she lives. Ely said it is important for the community of Corrales to be represented in a single district. 

The floor substitute was ultimately tabled on a vote of 40-25.

Townsend said he believes Powdrell-Culbert has been “harmed and unfairly treated” during the redistricting process.

Republicans claim HB8 is gerrymandering

Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, also introduced a floor substitute. Harper said his proposal focused on keeping communities together, including trying to follow county lines. Additionally, he said it tries to stay within a 5 percent deviation in each district. 

Harper said that the representation outcomes under HB8 are very similar to a map he had drawn up based on what he described as maximum gerrymandering for Democrats. He acknowledged that Democrats have the advantage even under a map he had drawn up based on maximum gerrymandering for the Republicans.

Ely argued that Harper’s proposal ignored public input and the Voting Rights Act and would lead to a successful lawsuit against the state, leading to a judge deciding the district maps.

But Harper said his proposal is similar to one of the maps that the Citizen Redistricting Committee considered but did not adopt and was drawn up by a demographer who had listened to the public discussions.

Harper’s proposal was also tabled.