New Mexico lawmakers protected themselves and their colleagues when they redrew political district maps crafted by a 2021 nonpartisan advisory commission, shielding incumbents of both parties from competition and making legislative elections less competitive, according to a new 59-page report co-authored by University of New Mexico political science professor Gabriel Sanchez. The study, released Sept. 28, found no evidence that New Mexico Democrats, who have strong majorities in the House and Senate, politically gerrymandered their districts, a conclusion based on statistical analysis conducted by Sanchez’s co-author and University of Georgia professor David Cottrell. “The protection of incumbents was the greatest source of gerrymandering this session,” the authors concluded, based on the analysis and interviews with experts.
That outcome resulted from inherent weaknesses in how lawmakers set up the state’s new Citizens Redistricting Committee – the committee doesn’t have final say on what redistricting maps are adopted, the report found. This story was written by New Mexico In Depth and is republished with permission.
A proposed constitutional amendment that would remove the New Mexico Legislature from the controversial process of drawing new election districts for legislative and congressional seats wasn’t quite ready for its first vote, lawmakers decided Wednesday. Some members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee sought changes to House Joint Resolution 9 to strengthen its ability to ensure a nonpartisan redistricting process every 10 years. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque, proposes appointing people to an independent redistricting commission who have been away from the political process for at least five years, and in some cases 10. But Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said that wasn’t enough. “I think we can remove in a much stronger fashion the partisan influence from this commission by choosing who’s capable of serving on that commission,” he said.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham officially announced on Wednesday that she will call the state Legislature into a special session next week to approve new legislative, congressional and Public Education Commission districts. In addition to redistricting, lawmakers will also be called to appropriate federal COVID-19 relief funds.
In a statement on Wednesday, Lujan Grisham said she is confident the Legislature will work collaboratively and diligently to finalize new district maps so that all New Mexicans are fairly represented.
“A fundamental part of our American democracy is ensuring that all voters are represented, and the redistricting effort will make sure that the right of all New Mexicans to vote is complemented by fair representation through their elected officials,” Lujan Grisham said. “I look forward to a productive and collegial session and know lawmakers and legislative leadership will as always carry out the people’s business thoughtfully and respectfully, in a way that honors this important work.”
Updating district maps is a process that takes place every ten years, on the heels of the federal census. This year, thanks to a new law, the redistricting process began with a citizen redistricting committee that approved several different recommendations for the Legislature to consider. But, the Legislature is not required to accept any of those recommendations.
On Wednesday, New Mexico’s newly formed Citizen Redistricting Committee finalized its its recommended maps for the Legislature’s consideration.
Wednesday’s meeting was solely focused on advancing three map concepts for state House Districts.
The first map the committee approved was a modified version of a map submitted by the advocacy group Center for Civic Policy. The intention of the map, according to commentary submitted by CCP, was to “help consolidate Hispanic neighborhoods” in a southern district and to “better allow majority-Hispanic voters to elect a candidate of their choice.”
Discussion of that map, which is referred to as Map Concept E, revealed likely partisan disputes when the proposal gets to the Legislature sometime later this year in a special session.
Related: Commission votes to send proposed redistricting maps to Legislature
Committee member Lisa Curtis, who is an Albuquerque-based lawyer and a former legislator, said she moved the CCP map for consideration because maps that are generally regarded as “status-quo” tend to “perpetuate disenfranchisement for voters.”
“I’m proposing Concept E, to stop the disenfranchisement of the minority-majority of voters in this state,” Curtis said.
While the citizen committee did not take partisan data into consideration, one member said the districts in Concept E seemed to hint at gerrymandering in favor of Democrats.
Member Ryan Cangiolosi, who is the former chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said that while he had not looked into the political make-up of each proposed district in Concept E, many of the districts looked “snake-like” to him.
“The thing that I can say with all assurance is that I know that our CRC maps were drawn without partisan or performance data being considered,” Cangiolosi said. “Now I cannot say with a surety that that was done, that the people who drew those maps didn’t use partisan or performance data when creating those maps.”
Committee member and former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said he liked the concept because it would protect minority voters.
“This map, to me, protects our Hispanic population, probably not as much as I would like,” Sanchez said. “It definitely protects the Native American population. Again, possibly not as much as I would like.”
The committee also approved what is referred to as the Pueblo Consensus map or the modified version of Map Concept I. According to the redistricting committee’s website, the pueblo consensus map would create five “strong Native American districts” but is also “status-quo oriented.”
Sanchez’s voting record on the committee leans towards making changes to districts and shying away from status quo maps.
The newly formed New Mexico Citizen Redistricting Committee, tasked with presenting new political maps for the state Legislature to consider, decided on a series of maps last week, but still has more work to finish this week.
The committee approved three map concepts on Friday for congressional districts, state Senate districts and the state’s Public Education Commission. But the group is scheduled to meet again this week to approve state House districts.
Largely at issue throughout conversations during last week’s meeting was whether the committee should push for “status-quo” maps or instead opt for maps that make significant changes to how certain districts are drawn, particularly with congressional districts.
Congressional Concept A, for example, aims to keep New Mexico’s three congressional districts relatively similar to what they are now. It would keep Torrance and Bernalillo Counties in the First Congressional District, along with Placitas and the town of Bernalillo.
Former Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, who was appointed to the committee by New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, advocated making changes to congressional districts that would group areas that have not been grouped together before. But former New Mexico Republican Party Chair Ryan Cangiolosi, who was appointed to the committee by House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, warned against changing map boundaries without a justified reason.
“Change for just change’s sake sometimes, we’ve seen in history, is not good,” Cangiolosi said. “It doesn’t move anything forward.”
Later in the meeting, Sanchez defended making significant changes to congressional districts by saying that if certain communities that have raised concerns about their congressional representation, “can vote for the person of their choice,” then it is a “good change.”
Albuquerque-based attorney and former state Senator Lisa Curtis, who was appointed to the committee by Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, agreed with Sanchez’s sentiment and further said the committee should be providing the Legislature with new ideas.
“I think we’re sort of abdicating our responsibility by just putting the status quo map out for the fact of it,” Curtis said.
Below is a breakdown of the congressional and state Senate districts the committee has approved so far.
Congressional Concept A would mostly keep the three districts the same, leaving Isleta Pueblo and Cibola County in the 2nd Congressional District.
For the first time ever, the political redistricting process in New Mexico will start with recommendations from a citizen redistricting committee. While the final say ultimately lies with the state Legislature, the newly formed citizen committee is set to finalize their suggestions this week.
After a long series of meetings throughout the state where committee members heard testimony from the public, the committee will be tasked with deciding which of more than a dozen maps will best account for population change, while also considering tribal communities.
The maps that were presented to the public during the committee’s meetings vary, but the ultimate goal is to draw political districts to better represent changes in populations in the last ten years.
Ideally, each district will have the same number of residents. In some cases, it seems likely that some counties that are currently split between districts might get their own district. In other cases, cities and counties that are not currently split up may see some new divisions.
Lea County, for example, is currently split between two state House districts, but in nearly every concept the redistricting committee is considering, Lea County would have at least one full district within its boundaries because of its population growth.
The redistricting committee will choose from a number of options for state Senate, state House, congressional and state Public Education Districts. All of those categories have a handful of proposals, some from community advocacy groups.
The seven members of the state’s redistricting committee are set, as the state prepares to do its decennial redistricting process. The Legislature passed a bill to set up a redistricting commission earlier this year.
Legislative leaders and the state ethics commission selected the members of the redistricting committee. The ethics commission picked retired state Supreme Court Justice Edward L. Chavez as chair last week. It was required by law to choose a retired state supreme court justice or appeals court judge as the chair according to the redistricting committee law. The committee could only have three members with the same political party and members could not have changed their party registration in the previous two years.
The legislative challenge to choose a process for redistricting still hasn’t been settled. Lawmakers have just one week to get the job done.
On Friday, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance two bills that each would create an independent commission to redraw election district boundaries for congressional and legislative seats. That means the competing measures both will move to the House of Representatives for consideration. The committee adopted some amendments for House Bill 211 and Senate Bill 15 that made them more closely aligned. But differences remain.
Chief among them: The Senate bill does not include a provision prohibiting the committee from considering the current political makeup of existing districts as it drafts a new plan.
With just over a week to go before this year’s legislative session ends, the prospect of lawmakers coming through with an independent redistricting plan is looking more likely. But some involved in the process still have concerns about Senate Bill 15, which the Senate unanimously approved Wednesday. The measure would create a seven-member citizens’ committee to gather public input and then come up with three possible redistricting plans for the Legislature to consider by year’s end.
The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill Friday. Assuming the committee approves the measure, it would go to the House floor for a final vote before heading to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk for a signature.
Some redistricting advocates want the legislation to include language that ensures tribal and pueblo governments are included in the process.
“The redistricting activities have to take into consideration local governments and their role on the Navajo Nation,” said Leonard Gorman, executive director of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. Among his concerns: The bill as written says redistricting should not divide existing precinct boundaries.
Efforts to ensure New Mexico has an independent redistricting commission plan — once seen as an uphill climb at best — are now moving with momentum. The Senate voted 39-0 to approve a compromise bill that, if enacted into law, would play a major role in setting boundaries for Congress, the state Senate and House of Representatives, and the Public Education Commission later this year.
The substitute bill for Senate Bills 15 and 99 would create a seven-member panel to come up with a redistricting plan for the Legislature to approve by the end of the year. Provisions of the bill include the ability for legislative leaders from both parties in the Senate and House to choose four members. The New Mexico Ethics Commission will choose the other three members, one of whom would be a retired justice of the state Supreme Court or a retired judge of the state Court of Appeals.
“This citizens’ redistricting committee will go throughout the state and do a series of [public] hearings,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque and co-sponsor of the legislation.
After taking public input, that group then will come up with three plans for redistricting and present them to the Legislature to consider during a special session slated for later this year.
Ivey-Soto added an amendment Tuesday that requires the commission to be appointed and ready to go to work by June 1. The legislation prohibits one political party from holding a majority on the commission.
There was little debate or discussion on the legislation, which started out as one of the slowest-moving bills of this year’s session. It now goes to at least one committee in the House.