Historically, redistricting has been a highly partisan battle for power, with the party in power making every effort possible to concoct safe districts for themselves. The result? Lawsuits, ill will, & gerrymandered districts that are astonishing.
Today, we focus on gerrymandering by examining how our current NM state boundaries were created in 2011 when the legislature and Governor Martinez could not agree and the courts drew up our current boundaries. And for a decade the NM state legislature failed to pass legislation to create a commission and so in 2021 a Democratic legislature and Governor will have a free hand to draw the boundaries over the voices of a heavily outnumbered GOP. In today’s post we examine how by creating an independent commission to draw the boundaries we can do things more sensibly and fairly. At the end of the post we offer a hilarious John Oliver video laying out the gerrymandering process.
Retake Zoominar on Getting Redistricting Right, Tuesday, July 21, 6:30pm – 8 pm. We will be hosting a Zoominar on redistricting in NM with a very interesting panel including: Kathleen Burke, project coordinator for Fair Districts, NN; Dick Mason, Chair of the Policy Committee the League of Women’s Voters of NM. Joining them on the panel will be ABQ State Senators, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D) and Sen. Mark Moores, (R). It will be most instructive discussion. To register, click here.
But before we turn to redistricting, one volunteer request and then our 2020 NM State Election Preview.
Common Cause Needs Election Protection Volunteers
With cases of COVID-19 continuing to increase in New Mexico and the election approaching in a matter of months, Common Cause needs volunteers to step up and help protect voting rights.
Common Cause’s Election Protection program is seeking volunteers to help this election season as voters face new challenges to accessing the ballot box. You can make a difference and help answer questions about voting by mail, early voting and in-person voting during this pivotal election.
Throughout the election cycle, volunteers will provide voter information, document problems they encounter when voting and work with partners and volunteers on the ground to identify and remove barriers to voting.
Common Cause will provide all the training and materials you’ll need to be an effective voting advocate. We are also looking for attorneys to volunteer and help answer our hotlines on Election Day!
Sign up as an Election Protection volunteer today, and we’ll reach out with all the information you need to get started!
Retake Our Democracy:
2020 NM State Election Priorities & ToolKit
Since 2016 Retake Our Democracy has worked with allies like Working Families Party, Olé, Indivisibles, Southwest Organizing Project, Albuquerque Interfaith and others to fundamentally change the political dynamics in the NM State Legislature. Over the past four years, coalition backed candidates ousted to House DINOs, retook a House of Representatives that had been controlled by the GOP and then vastly strengthened the House majority over the next two election cycles, while infusing the House with a far younger, more diverse and more progressive Democratic Caucus.
In the 2020 June Primary, this loose coalition focused on Fixing the Senate and ousted five Senate Democrats in Name Only. Now as we face the November general election, we have an opportunity to make even more gains in both chambers, especially he Senate. We are not finished
Over the past two weeks, we’ve been in dialogue with our allies and other election operatives and are now prepared to publish our “2020 NM Legislative Election Priorities and ToolKit.” You will find background info on each race, contact information for the campaigns, and how you can support these campaigns.
Retake readers understand how much is at stake. For four years, we’ve reported on each legislative session, the wins and the losses. Far too often, we had to report how Democratic Committee Chairs had buried a bill simply by not calling it for a hearing or where 1-2 Democrats had joined with the GOP to vote down a bill in committee. We are ever so close to creating a legislature that will be far less likely to do this. In 2021, if we all get involved, we can pass the Health Security Act, a paid sick leave bill, a public bank, legalized marijuana, and meaningful environmental legislation. Let’s find out how. Click here to get to our Election Priorities and ToolKit.
Independent Redistricting Commission OR
Another Ten Years of Gerrymandered Districts in NM
After every census is completed, state district boundaries are redrawn. There are virtually no guidelines for what constitutes a “fair” district, except for two Federal government prohibitions.
- Districts must be comprised of equal numbers of constituents; and
- You can’t “pack” any demographic or political group into a single district so that the vast majority of that population’s voters are packed into only one district and you can’t “fracture” a demographic or political group by dispersing them so broadly in a number of districts where their constituency is easily outvoted, leaving them with no elected representatives.. With these as the only guidelines, states have done some very strange things in redrawing district boundaries. The two-minute video below very clearly lays out how gerrymandering works.
How does this play out in NM? Take a look at this map of the NM State Senate boundaries.
Some boundaries look pretty reasonable, e.g. Dist 27 and Dist 41 in eastern NM and District 38 in southern NM. But look at District 36, basically this little sliver that has been carved out between Districts 35 and 37. Or look at Senate District 39, Liz Stefanics district. It extends from northeast of Santa Fe, captures a chunk of Santa Fe and then extends through portions of San Miguel, Torrance and even Lincoln counties. What kind of a constituency is that? What kind of machinations went into creating that district? How can Sen. Stefanics possibly sustain consistent communication with such a large district and one that includes so many different kinds of communities? While Stefanics’ district 39 is extreme, most every district has odd zigs, zags, carve outs and carve ins with these boundaries carved very intentionally to include or exclude some communities from one district and inject into another.
Rep. Matthew McQueen represents House District 50 and that district’s boundaries are just as tortured as Senator Stefanics are in Dist. 39, with his district including Eldorado and then heading south to include parts of Torrance and Valencia counties. Or look at District 69 in west NM as it starts in the far north in San Juan county, then heads south through past of McKinley, before continuing its southern journey through parts of Cibola and even capturing a bit of northern Socorro county.
How were these boundaries created?
In 2011, a special session was held to draw district boundaries because nothing was agreed to in the regular session. On Sept. 23, the state Senate passed SB 33 and the House passed HB 39 (state House), with each chamber agreeing to a set of boundaries for that chamber. But both chambers were controlled by the Democrats and the Governor was Susana Martinez. She promptly vetoed the bills on October 7.
On January 3, a state court issued state House maps instead; the same court issued state Senate maps on January 16. On February 10, the State Supreme court struck down the state House maps, with instructions for the trial court to reconsider the extent to which mildly larger population deviations would satisfy other state redistricting criteria, to reconsider the partisan impact and incumbent pairings of the previous court-ordered plan, and to recognize a district protecting Hispanic voters in the Clovis area under the Voting Rights Act.
On February 27, the trial court issued a new state House plan. What a mess.
In 2011, we had a divided state government, but in 2021, we had strongly Democratic majorities in both chambers and a Democratic governor. And we were still unable to pass a bill to put an independent commission on the ballot in November. Now imagine the 2021 legislative session with both chambers Democratic and a Democratic governor. This is who will be drawing up boundaries for the next decade. If you have ever been in a legislative hearing where a highly partisan bill is being debated with Republicans knowing they are going to be outvoted, imagine such a scenario where what is at stake is not a single bill, but a bill with boundaries that will be drawn up by Democrats and where the GOP will be powerless to do anything but object.. No checks or balances. Imagine if it were the GOP in control.
There is another way to redraw boundaries—an independent redistricting commission. Retake is devoting its next Zoominar, July 21 to laying out how redistricting in NM has been done in the past, how it could be done with a commission. Click here for more information and to register for the Zoominar.
We are too late to avoid an ugly process in 2021 and can only hope that Democratic leadership doesn’t use its overwhelming leverage to unfairly tilt the scales. But with a strong Democratic majority in each chamber and a Democratic governor, we can pass legislation that ensures that the next round of redistricting is done democratically.
The video below is hilarious and also does a good job of making clear just how nefarious gerrymandering can be.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne
Thanks for this comprehensive post.
I’ve heard that the last time a redistricting plan did NOT end up in court was 1970. Think of all of the waste of taxpayer dollars in legal costs wasted by this pure partisan power grab.
Also, we have been introducing various independent redistricting legislation since 2005, and every time it gets stuck in Senate Rules. We will not get an independent redistricting commission as long as Linda Lopez is chair of Senate Rules.
Finally, I hope when we do get to introducing redistricting legislation, we think outside the box. Multimember districts elected through proportional representation and Ranked Choice Voting are a much more fair way to represent the people than any single member systems, which by nature leave up to half the constituents feeling unrepresented- a major reason for voter apathy. There is a lot of good info out there about how this would work.
I’m unclear from the Common Cause “Election Protection” call to arms if that is only an activity that will be face-to-face at voting locations. Do you have any more info on this?