Facing deadline pressure, NM court weighs redistricting clash - Albuquerque Journal

Facing deadline pressure, NM court weighs redistricting clash

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Attorneys for the state Republican Party asked a judge Monday to bar New Mexico from conducting this year’s congressional elections under the new map adopted in last year’s special session, describing it as an illegal partisan gerrymander.

Lawyers for the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, by contrast, urged the judge to dismiss the lawsuit altogether, contending the map complies with every requirement in the state Constitution.

The clash played out before Clovis-based District Judge Fred Van Soelen, who said he will issue a ruling by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The timing is critical. The first ballots for the primary election must go in the mail to military and overseas voters by Saturday.

Dylan Lange, an attorney for Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said it’s already too late – that changing the map now would cause “mass chaos.”

“Five days before an election is just too much for us to handle,” Lange told the judge. “It’s not feasible.”

Van Soelen didn’t say how he intends to rule, but he asked a number of questions centering on the potential disruption of overturning the map approved by the Legislature.

Chris Murray, an attorney for the state GOP and other plaintiffs, said federal law allows for an exemption to the deadline for military and overseas ballots when there’s a legal dispute.

Furthermore, he said, allowing the election to go forward under the new map would violate the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs by diluting the voting strength of Republicans in southeastern New Mexico. He cited a provision in the Constitution guaranteeing people “equal protection” of the law.

Murray cited comments by Democratic legislative leaders that he said showed their goal was to damage the reelection chances of U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo – the only Republican in the state delegation – and analysis by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and others.

“It’s a clear partisan gerrymander,” Murray said.

Attorneys for Democratic legislative leaders and the governor said the state Constitution assigns the task of redistricting to political officeholders in the legislative and executive branches of government. There’s no clear standard, the defendants said, for what would constitute an illegal partisan gerrymander.

“The process worked just like the Constitution envisions,” Richard Olson, an attorney for legislative leaders, said of the new map. “There’s no reason for judicial involvement.”

Lujan Grisham attorney Holly Agajanian said the Constitution doesn’t require lawmakers to adopt maps “with the blessing” of the minority party.

Lawmakers in December adopted the new congressional map, substantially reshaping all three districts. The map, for example, splits Albuquerque into two districts with ripple effects that make Herrell’s seat more friendly to Democrats.

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