Following the 2020 census, New Mexico will be required to readjust its electoral districts to reflect changes in the distribution of the population. Now is the time for New Mexico to take steps to join the growing number of states that have created objective, fair, and transparent systems for redistricting.
In New Mexico, the legislature determines the congressional and state legislative districts, as well as the Public Education Commission and Public Regulation Commission districts. Our state has a long history of having the legislature’s redistricting maps litigated and decided by the courts.
After the previous census, in 2010, the redistricting process failed, as it had many times before. Numerous lawsuits, appeals and counter-appeals resulted. Finally, in February 2012, a Federal District Court ruled that the mapping decisions made by the N.M. Supreme Court would stand. The redistricting budget for the 2011 cycle was $3 million, but the total cost was $8 million and court-drawn maps were not finally implemented until a week before the deadline for candidates to file for the 2012 elections.
How can we prevent a repeat in 2021? Ideally, by now we would have amended our state constitution, but our legislature has not been willing to put an independent redistricting commission amendment on the ballot. Now it’s too late to create a commission before the next redistricting cycle.
So, what can be done? We need to convince our legislators that they must pass legislation to make the process fairer and more transparent prior to 2021. The bulk of the decision-making and debate over redistricting happens in Democratic and Republican caucus meetings, closed-door gatherings during the legislative session. Unlike other states, New Mexico does not prohibit favoring an incumbent or party; New Mexico’s process effectively allows incumbents to tailor their districts to suit their political base.
As a guide to fair redistricting, the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan law and public policy institute, has created a set of rules to ensure that district maps reflect community input and preferences, protect minority communities, and are free from political manipulation. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/policy-solutions/creating-strong-rules-drawing-maps
Fourteen states already have independent legislative redistricting commissions. At least six other states are considering adopting some type of redistricting reform prior to 2021. Please join me in telling our legislators that we want the process in 2021 to be objective, fair, and open.