Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The 2nd Congressional District in southern New Mexico leans about 14 percentage points more Republican than the nation as a whole, by one standard.
But the GOP stands to see that edge erode or even evaporate under the congressional maps recommended by the state’s newly created Citizen Redistricting Committee, according to analysis by FiveThirtyEight, a website that covers polling and elections.
The changes aren’t necessarily intentional: The citizen committee was prohibited from using partisan data as it evaluated maps, focusing instead on keeping traditional communities of interest together and other redistricting principles.
Edward Chávez, a retired Supreme Court justice who led the Citizens Redistricting Committee, said the panel used its best judgment as it considered dozens of maps based on the criteria permitted.
“I think this is an experiment, and we’re going to find out what it’s like to draw maps blind to partisan data,” Chávez said in an interview this week.
David Cottrell, a University of Georgia professor, is now evaluating the maps for unintentional gerrymandering and other measures of partisan fairness. His report will go to the Legislature alongside the map recommendations.
But the analysis by FiveThirtyEight – owned by ABC News – offers a peek at the potential changes to the political landscape, if the Legislature adopts one of the recommended maps.
Two of the three options endorsed by the committee would make the 2nd Congressional District slightly less Republican, taking it from a 14 point GOP lean to just 11 or 13 points, according to FiveThirtyEight.
A third option, however, would transform the seat into a highly competitive district that leans by 1 point more toward Democrats than the does the nation as a whole.
That proposal, Concept H, was designed by the left-leaning Center for Civic Policy on behalf of a coalition of groups and adopted 5-2 by the committee. The center wasn’t prohibited from factoring in partisan data as it designed a map for submission to the redistricting committee.
The committee itself, however, couldn’t consider the political implications as it weighed the map.
Instead, the gerrymandering analysis comes after the fact.
Cottrell, the professor, was hired by the committee to scrutinize the maps on a variety of standards, such as how the average or median congressional seat would compare to the state’s leanings as a whole.
But if any of the recommendations fail the gerrymandering test, Chávez said, the committee can’t amend or fix the maps. Doing so, he said, would violate the ban on committee members using political data.
Ryan Cangiolosi, a former state Republican Party chairman and member of New Mexico’s redistricting committee, said he is confident the maps designed by the committee itself or its contractor, Research & Polling Inc., comply with the prohibition on using partisan data.
But there’s no way to know, he said, when outside groups submit maps for the committee to vote on.
Cangiolosi was one of the two dissenting votes on the Center for Civic Policy’s congressional map. But it won approval and is among the three options recommended to legislators.
“As I communicated during the last CRC meeting,” he said this week, “I have serious concerns with presenting maps to the Legislature that we as a committee cannot assure were built using nonpartisan or performance data of any kind.”
There are many ways to measure partisan lean and performance. FiveThirtyEight compares a district or state to how the nation as a whole votes.
Here’s a look at the three congressional proposals and the FiveThirtyEight analysis of them:
• Concept A, approved on a 4-3 vote, would largely maintain the status quo with two Democratic-leaning seats and a Republican-leaning one.
It was among seven initial concepts suggested by Research & Polling Inc., the company hired to help the committee.
Republican Yvette Herrell’s southern New Mexico district would lean 13 points more toward Republicans than the national average.
The Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District now held by Democrat Melanie Stansbury and the 3rd Congressional District – represented by Democrat Teresa Leger Fernandez of Santa Fe – would both lean substantially toward Democrats, as they do now.
• Concept E-Revised, approved on a 6-1 vote, would also maintain the existing political landscape, for the most part.
It was designed by Chávez to reflect input from public testimony on Native American representation and other factors.
The southern-based 2nd Congressional District would have an 11 point Republican lean compared to the nation as a whole.
An Albuquerque and Rio Rancho-based district would lean 18 percentage points toward Democrats. The northern-based district would swoop down to take in part of the Mescalero Apache reservation near Ruidoso and would lean 10 points toward Democrats.
• Concept H, the Center for Civic Policy map, would establish a highly competitive southern New Mexico seat by moving much of Albuquerque’s West Side and South Valley into the district. It was recommended on a 5-2 vote.
The proposal would also split the conservative stronghold of southeastern New Mexico into all three districts.
The results would be a Democratic lean in every U.S. House district – by 1 point in the southern district, 11 points in the central New Mexico district and 7 points in the northern New Mexico seat.
The suggested maps are recommendations. The Legislature, where Democrats hold large majorities, is set to meet in December and will be free to pick one of the committee’s suggestions or draft entirely new maps.
Also to be revised are boundaries for legislative seats and Public Education Commission districts.