Every 10 years – in years ending with “one” – New Mexico must draw new district maps for our congressional, legislative and Public Education Commission districts based on census data.
Populations shift, and as many of our elected representatives’ districts are determined by population size, it’s important that we make this adjustment. Underserved communities and people need to be protected as district boundaries change. The goal is to try to make sure that every voter has a fair chance – and equal opportunity – to elect the candidate of their choice.
New Mexico does not have a statute that creates laws and procedures for redistricting. In many years, this results in maps that reflect the desires of lawmakers rather than the people who elect them. And when the Legislature cannot agree on maps, courts must draw the maps at huge taxpayer expense; in 2011 the courts drew the maps resulting in over $6 million in attorney fees and other costs.
Our democracy deserves better. If redistricting is to best serve our democracy, we should make sure that public input is taken seriously by:
• Having several public meetings in compliance with the Open Meetings Act,
• Documenting public input, including public submission of maps,
• Making sure that legislators are all made aware of the public input,
• Making every proposed redistricting map available to the public for comment,
• Documenting the justification for not having every district equal in population, and
• Requiring public votes by those with the authority to recommend or adopt redistricting maps.
Last fall, the nonprofit New Mexico First, with funding from the Thornburg Foundation, established a 25-member Redistricting Task Force to bring justice, fairness and transparency to the redistricting process beginning in 2021.
As a retired New Mexico Supreme Court chief justice and a retired New Mexico Court of Appeals chief judge, we were asked to co-chair the Task Force; we accepted enthusiastically.
Task Force members were selected from over 140 nominees by a cross-partisan selection committee and included people from different political parties or affiliations. The Task Force is racially, ethnically and geographically diverse, including members from sovereign pueblos and tribes.
The Redistricting Task Force worked for 12 weeks to study state and federal redistricting requirements, best practices from other states and concerns from specific communities and groups in New Mexico to develop a set of recommendations to be considered by the state Legislature in the 2021 session for the 2021 redistricting process. The Task Force developed 18 recommendations published in a public report available at NMFirst.org that focus primarily on:
Equitable representation by population; full compliance with the Voting Rights Act; Indigenous governances; communities of interest; integrity of governmental subdivisions; preserving the cores of existing districts; contiguity and compactness; and geographic barriers and features.
The overarching recommendation of the Task Force is for the state Legislature during the 2021 regular session to establish a seven-member cross-partisan redistricting commission. The commission will have two members each from each of the two major political parties, and two members who do not belong to any major party. A retired state Supreme Court justice or Court of Appeals judge will chair the commission.
This commission will be required to have its inaugural meeting in April and by October is to present three to five maps for U.S. Congress, the New Mexico Senate, the New Mexico House of Representatives and the Public Education Commission for the Legislature to review and vote upon.
The commission will also be required to hold a minimum of 12 public hearings in different areas of the state for citizen input, which will inform the adoption of redistricting maps. The commission will keep track of public input, will provide a report to the Legislature outlining the public input and the justification for each map it proposes for the Legislature’s consideration.
The commission needs your support! Please contact your legislator and tell them you support the establishment of the commission. And please get involved in the public process this year and make your voice heard. “One person, one vote” must finally become the vision and reality for New Mexico.