Editorial: 2020 Census data provides an equitable path for redistricting

Ask Mesa Del Sol residents in southern Bernalillo County what they have in common with folks who live in Jal and Cloverdale. Or residents in the northwest corner of Albuquerque what their common interests are with folks who live in Raton and Wagon Mound.

The former are represented in the U.S. Congress by Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo. The latter, by Democrat Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez of Santa Fe.

These are just a few examples of how N.M.’s communities of interest have been pulled and twisted like a Stretch Armstrong action figure when boundaries for our three congressional districts have been drawn.

Consider this: Congressional District 1 encompasses most of Bernalillo County, slivers of Sandoval, Santa Fe and Valencia counties, and all of Torrance County – when it could have kept all of Bernalillo County.

But why keep the metropolitan area – diverse but with many underlying common interests, rampant crime and a behemoth school district at the top of the list – intact when you can peel off South Valley Democrats to shore up support for that party’s causes in red southern CD2 and Republicans in NW Albuquerque and Rio Rancho to dilute their voices in predominantly blue northern CD3?

New census data showing large population gains in the state’s oil patch and slow population growth in Bernalillo County could change all that – if state lawmakers can manage to put their gerrymandering instincts aside.

Bolstered by an explosion in shale oil production in the Permian Basin, Eddy and Lea counties posted the two largest population gains by percentage over the last decade statewide, according to census data presented recently to the Citizen Redistricting Committee.

According to the new census numbers, the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District has 694,577 residents, the southern-based 2nd Congressional District has 714,022, and the northern-based 3rd Congressional District has 708,923. With the new census numbers, the target population for each of the state’s three congressional districts will be 705,841 residents.

To meet the target, about 11,000 residents would have to be added to the 1st District, about 8,000 would have to be removed from the 2nd District, while the boundaries of the 3rd District would require a little tweaking.

Moving Paradise Hills and the South Valley into the 1st District seems like a good starting point.

Consolidating all of Bernalillo County with a population of about 679,000 people into one congressional district also seems doable. Currently, there’s a piece of Bernalillo County in each of the state’s three congressional districts, diluting the voices and splintering the influence of voters in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Citizen Redistricting Committee has begun holding public hearings and will propose maps for the state’s congressional seats, 70-person state House and 42-member state Senate by Oct. 30. The final redistricting maps will be made by the Legislature during a special session later this year, subject to the approval by the governor.

State lawmakers created the Citizen Redistricting Committee this year to limit political influence over the crafting of the maps. The seven-member committee cannot rely on partisan or party-registration data and can consider the addresses of incumbents only to avoid pairing them in districts. The success or failure of redistricting will be based on keeping communities of interest together in compact, contiguous districts within governmental subdivisions.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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