The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to rule on two cases related to state redistricting plans. They said that it was up to the states to deal with that issue. Therefore, the League of Women Voters now calls upon New Mexico policymakers to engage with the “good government” groups and the general public to develop a fair and transparent process for redistricting in 2021.
New Mexico has joined the vast number of states that have a state ethics commission, a great victory for transparency and accountability in government. Now, it is time for New Mexico to take the next step and join the growing number of states that have created objective, fair and transparent systems for redistricting so that constituents choose their representatives rather than having their representatives choose their constituents.
Redistricting takes place in the year following the decennial Census, and determines the congressional and state legislative districts. Fourteen states already have independent legislative redistricting commissions. At least six other states are considering adopting some type of redistricting reform prior to 2021.
In New Mexico, the Legislature determines the congressional and state legislative districts, as well as the Public Education Commission and Public Regulation Commission districts.
New Mexico has a long history of having its redistricting maps litigated and decided by the courts. From 1960 until 1991, New Mexico was forced to get pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice to (en)sure that the maps approved by the Legislature and the governor complied with federal standards for fair representation. In 1995, the DOJ once again required pre-clearance after the 1992 amended maps violated the standards.
After the 2000 Census data was received and concept maps were produced by Research and Polling, the Legislative Redistricting Committee held extensive hearings across the state, getting input from the public, organizations and tribal governments. The redistricting budget was $1.8 million. The maps the Legislature approved and the governor signed were challenged by several parties. The state had to pay an additional $1.7 million in litigation costs, and the courts again drew the lines.
After the 2010 Census, the redistricting process again failed. Numerous lawsuits, appeals and counter-appeals resulted. Finally, in February 2012, a Federal District Court ruled that the N.M. Supreme Court’s mapping decisions would stand. The redistricting budget for the 2011 cycle was $3 million, but the total cost was $8 million. The court-drawn maps were not finally implemented until about a week before the deadline for candidates to file for the 2012 elections.
The lengthy court battles severely undermine the public’s confidence in the political process and in their legislators. The League of Women Voters and other good government groups support an independent redistricting commission. But the New Mexico Legislature has not been receptive to legislation that would allow the question of an independent redistricting commission to go on the ballot. That is still the League’s preference, but we are open to working with New Mexico policymakers to develop ways of making the 2021 redistricting process fairer and more transparent.
New Mexico was one of the last states to create a state ethics commission. Let’s not be one of the last states to implement redistricting reform.