The creation of a Citizen Redistricting Committee in 2021 was a limited success for democracy. New Mexicans, through more than 14 public meetings around the state, had the opportunity to weigh in like never before on the drawing of legislative and congressional maps for the next decade.
A BSP Research survey of highly likely voters in March found more than half believed the seven-member CRC did a great or good job of public engagement. However, the ultimate results and lack of transparency putting together the final maps were disappointing to many New Mexicans.
The problem came when state lawmakers ignored the CRC’s recommendations and passed one of the most gerrymandered congressional maps in the nation — one that divides communities of interest and governmental subdivisions like Albuquerque, Hobbs and Roswell, neutralizes the political influence of conservative Southeast New Mexico where Chaves County was carved into three congressional districts, and dismisses the rising number of independents.
In the end, redistricting was a farce that diluted the rural vote and shifted even more political power to the Santa Fe-Albuquerque corridor. So much for keeping like-minded communities together, prioritizing communities of interest, protecting marginalized groups, and not favoring political parties or incumbents.
The congressional map passed by lawmakers in December 2021 wasn’t among the three maps recommended by the CRC, which was prohibited by law from using voter history data or party registration when drawing maps.
The end result was that lawmakers approved a plan in which none of their Democratic colleagues were pitted against each other in any of the new 112 legislative maps for the New Mexico House and Senate, a practice known as “buddymandering.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham failed to provide a counterbalance to the shenanigans of legislative leaders and signed the redistricting bill that she should have vetoed.
However, the concept of “one person, one vote” isn’t dead.
The bipartisan House Joint Resolution 1, which could be heard by the House Judiciary Committee as soon as Monday, would correct the flawed process by removing lawmakers from the equation. If approved by lawmakers in the House and Senate by simple majority votes, the proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Reps. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque, and Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, would go before voters in November 2024. If ratified by voters, New Mexico would have a truly Independent Redistricting Commission with binding recommendations following the 2030 census, rather than one that merely makes suggestions.
HJR 1 is backed by respected folks such as retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Chavez and retired Court of Appeals Chief Judge Roderick Kennedy.
Chavez and Kennedy co-chaired the 2020 Redistricting Task Force, which laid the groundwork for the Citizen Redistricting Committee. Chavez chaired the CRC, which came up with proposals following three months of public input.
Chavez and Kennedy are calling for a truly Independent Redistricting Commission to handle the decennial redistricting process.
Gerrymandering is not kind to common-sense candidates in the middle of the political spectrum.
The time for the change is now, while the public is aware of the current system’s flaws and well before the 2030 census, after which lawmakers will again be tempted to gerrymander and buddymander maps for immediate political gain.
The only barrier is lawmakers themselves, too many of whom want to pick their own constituents, rather than allowing voters to pick them.
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.