Offer Your Two Cents on Redistricting

By Jennie Lusk

You can now draw maps, submit written comments to help identify “communities of interest,” and schedule your participation in meetings of the Citizen Redistricting Committee through the committee’s website.

The website at www.nmredistricting.org has just gone “live”, as the newly formed committee commences its work redrawing New Mexico’s voting districts for the U.S. House of Representatives, both houses of the state legislature and other districted offices. Through the new website, interested people can suggest and draw their own maps to propose to committee members.  People can click on precincts and counties to paint the territory of such districts, tracking currently available information to draw the 70-member House of Representatives and 42-member Senate for New Mexico.  

The task of redistricting is taken up every 10 years after the U.S.census. As population grows or shrinks and people move around, voting districts must be redrawn so that each district contains approximately the same number of people, supporting the constitutional bedrock requirement of “one person, one vote.” Much controversy over the means of conducting the census remains nationwide after the Trump administration first attempted to reduce the number of residents without citizenship credentials counted, moved to electronic counts even in areas with poor internet access, stopped door-to-door visits by census department employees and contractors in response to the pandemic, began switching personal geographic information at the precinct level in a system that could threaten the fundamental accuracy of the count, and then delayed release of the results.  The census count drives federal funding from school lunch supports and Medicaid programs to infrastructure development.  Redistricting for selecting state and local representatives in the democratic structure remains a constitutional requirement, however, even if based on a significantly flawed census enumeration.

Legislation passed in New Mexico as SB 304 during the 2021 regular session authorized the appointment of a seven-member Citizen Redistricting Committee to tackle the task of drawing new districts that reflect the state’s shifts in population. Those selected were restricted by law to qualified voters who have not, within 2 years prior to appointment, served as public officials, including as candidates for public office, lobbyists or office holders in a political party at the state or federal level; who are not relatives (carefully defined in the law) of a member of Congress, the state legislature or the public education commission; who are not and haven’t been employees of a member of congress, the legislative branch of government or other state office being redistricted; or employees of the executive branch of government.

The legislation also codified redistricting principles that previously were articulated most often as “guidelines” issued by the Legislative Council. These principles were included and passed into law limiting the types of plans that can be submitted for legislative discussion and review to those that do not “rely upon or reference partisan data such as voting history or party registration, except that voting history in elections may be considered to ensure that the district plan complies with the federal law or register;” and that do not consider the voting address of candidates or incumbents except to avoid pairing incumbents against each other or conform to traditional districting principles.

The committee’s work begins today, with an online administrative meeting from 9 to 11 a.m.  The group begins in August to hold no fewer than six public meetings virtually and in-person (unless prohibited by a public health order) to receive testimony, documents, and information regarding the creation of district plans. The in-person meetings must be held in the State’s four quadrants, in a central location, and on tribal land.  Another six meetings will be scheduled after publication of the committee’s proposed plans.  The committee’s first in-person meeting for taking public comment is scheduled to be held at the State Capitol in Santa Fe beginning at 3 p.m August 2.  The full meeting schedule and agendas are posted at the website.