Report: NM lawmakers opted for less competition - Albuquerque Journal

Report: NM lawmakers opted for less competition

In this December photo, redistricting proposals are displayed on a wall inside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — New Mexico legislators drew their own districts with fewer competitive seats — especially in the state Senate — than the proposals suggested by an independent citizens committee that was barred from considering partisan data, according to an analysis by a University of Georgia professor.

Highly likely voters surveyed by a University of New Mexico expert also gave higher grades to the citizen committee’s work than to how the Legislature itself handled redistricting.

The polling and map evaluations were released Tuesday as part of a report that recommends the Legislature explore ways to boost the likelihood of the Citizen Redistricting Committee’s maps becoming law in the next round of map-making after the 2030 census — perhaps through legal changes that require the Legislature to either pick one of the maps or make only minimal changes.

As part of the report, David Cottrell, a University of Georgia professor, evaluated the maps adopted by the Legislature for their own seats. He compared the legislatively approved maps to proposals crafted by the independent Citizen Redistricting Committee — which made non-binding suggestions to the Legislature — and nonpartisan maps generated by a computer program.

The state Senate map approved by lawmakers had dramatically fewer competitive seats — where Republican and Democratic candidates are expected to be within 10 percentage points of each other — — than the nonpartisan citizen committee and computer-generated maps, according to Cottrell’s analysis.

The new 42-member Senate map has seven competitive seats, compared with 10 to 16 proposed by the CRC and computer.

The 70-member House map wasn’t as quite as severe. It has 17 competitive seats, just one or two fewer than the CRC suggestions and at the low end of what was produced by the computer.

Broadly speaking the maps don’t appear to disproportionately help Democrats, Cottrell said, but they don’t produce many swing districts either.

The “map analysis found evidence suggesting that the legislature gerrymandered the districts to reduce party competition,” Cottrell said in the report. “This was more pronounced in the Senate.”

Gabriel Sanchez, a University of New Mexico professor who surveyed 500 highly likely voters and interviewed experts involved in redistricting, said his research showed the public believed the CRC did a better job with the map-making than the Legislature did. Twice as many survey respondents gave the citizen committee an A or B for its work than they did legislators, according to his report.

The report was funded by the Arnold Foundation, a philanthropic group.

Kathleen Burke of Fair Districts for New Mexico — part of the coalition that released Tuesday’s report — said her group plans to support legislation in next year’s 60-day session that would ask voters to amend the Constitution to put an independent citizen committee, not the Legislature, in charge of the maps. But such a proposal would require approval of both the House and Senate.

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