Is Time Ripe for a Constitutional Amendment to Create an Independent Redistricting Commission?

Fair Districts NM (FDNM) did a heroic job facilitating a public, democratic process to develop a set of principles and redistricting maps. Depending on who you talk to, the Special Session Redistricting process was either an utter disaster or faithful to the Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC) principles and maps. Today’s post offers two perspectives on the issue and considers the possibility of introducing a resolution to put an independent redistricting commission on the ballot, possibly in 2022 or 2023.

Before we dive into Redistricting, a brief legislative update.

Legislative Update

Time to Huddle again

We heard lots of positive input on our Huddle last week and are pleased to announce our next Huddle and subsequent Huddles during the legislative session.

Legislative Strategy Huddle Zoom, Weds, January 12, 6-7pm. This is our last huddle before the 2022 Session begins on Jan. 18. You must register to attend. Subsequent Legislative Huddles will be every Weds., 6-7 p.m. Please join us! We will be making final plans for our legislative advocacy work. In our last Huddle we were joined by Rep. Tara Lujan and we felt she contributed a good deal to our discussion. So, on Jan. 12, we will be joined by both allies and a few legislators to help us sort out what is coming. To date, we have Sen. Sedillo Lopez and Rep. Andrea Romero confirmed and two others trying to find time. Sen. Sedillo Lopez will speak to us about her Second Chance legislation and the Green Amendment, while Rep. Romero will speak to us about her plan to reintroduce HB141, a Housing Reform bill that died in Senate Judiciary in 2021. Both are described on our “Bills We Support or Oppose” page link below.

Click here to register for the Jan. 12 Huddle. See you there!

Bills We Support or Oppose

If you want to find out more about the bills we will be supporting or opposing this session, click here. This page will undergo frequent updates as we get more information about bills of interest.

A Constitutional Amendment for an Independent Redistricting Commission in New Mexico

Please join Fair Districts NM for a public discussion and planning via Zoom, Tuesday, January 4, 2022, 6:30pm. Join here.

To provide context to the Zoom discussion, first a summary of the Special Session from FDNM and then a perspective from activist Michael Sperberg-McQueen.

Fair Districts for New Mexico (FDNM): Summary of the Special Session on Redistricting 2021, updated 12/30/21, 6:20pm. These were the requests FDNM made of the Legislature prior to the 2021 Special Session on redistricting:

A.   Select the Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC) maps which best balance compliance with the Voting Rights Act; freedom from partisan gerrymandering; protection of communities of interest; adherence to governmental boundaries including Tribal boundaries; and no favoring incumbents.

B.    If the Legislature amends the maps sent to them by the CRC they should provide a detailed explanation of why they amended the maps. This should include any changes made to maps via committee substitute, since the maps could not be legally amended. (In response, FDNM was told by the Senate leadership to file an IPRA request to obtain this information. To paraphrase journalist Gwyneth Doland, “That’s a hard no.”)

C.    During the special session on redistricting all legislative meetings should follow the letter and spirit of the Open Meetings Act. The public’s business should be conducted in full public view. The actions of the public bodies should be taken openly and all deliberations made open to the public.

Note: Throughout the cycle from the commencement of the New Mexico First Task Force in 2020, the passing of the Redistricting Act in 2021, the appointments to the Citizen Redistrict Committee (CRC) and throughout the CRC process, FDNM advocated for the inclusion of Native American voices. CRC Senate Concept Maps A1 and C1 both included Native American consensus. We are pleased that the New Mexico House and Senate final maps include the Native American consensus. Any criticism of the process should not be construed as criticism of that inclusion.

Where redistricting stands today, after the session, 12/30/21: Please note Fair Districts for New Mexico’s objective is a fair and transparent redistricting process. FDNM does not endorse or oppose any specific map.


The House filed all the CRC maps for both the House and Public Education Commission.

The HB8 House Map was based on CRC House Concept Map E1 and incorporated the Native American consensus which had not yet been reached when the CRC adjourned. HB8 passed both chambers and was signed by the Governor on 12/29. CRC Map E1 was evaluated by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and Dr. David Cottrell, PhD, at the University of Georgia as part of the CRC process and was found to be free of partisan bias. The CRC was barred by law from looking at partisan data and past election results. However, Research & Polling and the CRC attorneys did review the CRC Concept Map E1 for compliance with the Voting Rights Act where it was found to be in compliance.

HB9 the Public Education Commission map is based on CRC Concept E1 and passed both chambers with minor changes, explained by the sponsor. It was signed by the Governor.

The House passed SB1 the Congressional map which came over from the Senate. It has been signed by the Governor.

The House passed SB2 the Senate map which came over from the Senate. It is longstanding custom that each chamber affirms and authorizes (passes) the other chamber’s map.

Fair Districts for NM is pleased with the House’s choice of a CRC recommended map and its adherence to transparency in the redistricting process.


The Senate was charged with initiating the legislation for the NM Senate and Congressional mapsWe are displeased that the Senate filed the CRC maps for neither the NM Senate, nor Congress. The Senate might have obliged the public and the CRC by having seen to it that the recommended maps of the CRC were at a minimum introduced.

SB1, the Congressional map, was drawn behind closed doors and had to be revised after resistance from the public, including some Pueblos. It passed both the Senate and House and has been signed by the Governor. It most closely resembles CRC Concept Map H, but the Senate did not explain what they changed.

SB2, the Senate District map, was also drawn behind closed doors in the Democratic caucus and in our analysis was created mainly for the purpose of incumbency protection. In fact, at hearings many legislators said as much. It was stated that SB2 was based upon CRC Concept C1 and its sponsors boasted in Committee that it contains 68% of CRC Concept Map C1. (In most schools 68% qualifies as a “D” grade.) The Senate noted that SB2 included the Native American consensus, which is true. They failed to mention however that both CRC Concept Maps A1 and C1, maps which they rejected out of hand, included Native American consensus as well.

In the Senate Judiciary Committee a substitute for SB2 was proposed which eliminated an incumbent pairing and in the process altered the Native American consensus. It was overturned with a Senate floor substitute which passed both chambers, and awaits the signature of the Governor.

In the Senate we witnessed a repudiation of the CRC recommended maps, intentional non-transparency, and procedural noncompliance. FDNM disapproves of the lack of transparency in the Senate’s creation of the Congressional and Senate maps as well as the affronts to a fair process; e.g. Senate Judiciary’s preclusion of virtual public comment at its hearing on the substitute for SB2, as well as Senate Rules preclusion of the same at the hearing for HB8.

Another View on the Redistricting Process

Retake volunteer and activist Michael Sperberg-McQueen is as astute an observer of legislative process as we have. I had texted him that a House Member had told me s/he thought the redistricting process worked well and that “our” maps that emerged were faithful to the CRC-developed maps. Michael Sperberg-McQueen’s response follows:

First, the House

“The short version is: for the House, s/he is right. If s/he makes the same claim for the Senate, s/he is wrong. But I can’t believe s/he would make that claim. If s/he referred to “our maps,” s/he was surely referring to the House maps, not the Senate maps.

If you want the short answer stop now. The rest of the story is interesting, but it’s not short.

Both of the maps which started in the House — for the Public Education Commission (PEC) and for the House districts — have clear and understandable relations to CRC maps. In the case of the PEC, it was one of the CRC maps modified (a) to align better with school district boundaries in and near Roswell, and (b) to put the Aztec and Bloomfield school districts into the same PEC district. How important it was to do either of those two things, I cannot judge. The Roswell change made sense — it was motivated by trying to make it easier to say “if you are in school district X, you are in district such-and-such.” The Aztec/Bloomfield change was motivated by saying the two districts cooperate a great deal. That may or may not be a strong reason for being in the same PEC district, but it’s a clear one and not overtly partisan.

In the case of the House map, the relation is trickier, but understandable. The map adopted followed one of the CRC maps, changed only (a) to reflect the tribal consensus on districts directly connected to tribes, and (b) to deal with the ripple effects. (For example: the CRC map put Ohkay Owingeh into district 41, as they had
requested. For various reasons, Ohkay Owingeh changed its mind: they wanted six precincts to move together, and decided if they could not all move, the Pueblo would rather stay in district 40. So the tribal consensus map put them into district 40. That gave district 40 surplus population, so some precincts in southern Taos County moved from district 40 to district 42. The change to Ohkay Owingeh was directly related to a tribe; the change to southern Taos County was what I call a ripple effect.

So for the House, if the House member who spoke with you says the maps were very close to the CRC maps, and the House showed a good deal of respect for the CRC, I think s/he is right. Neither of those is true in the same degree for the Senate.

The Senate

The Congressional map introduced by Sen. Joseph Cervantes and Rep. Georgene Louis looks a fair bit like CRC map H: two ells forming a doughnut, with the third district occupying the hole. And in some sense both maps take the same approach to reducing the influence of the oil and gas region: they split it among the
three districts, so instead of the oil people of the Permian Basin having strong influence in one district ( District 2), they have weaker influence in all three districts. It is a textbook example of the technique of cracking: identify a stronghold of the opposition and instead of making it a majority in one district, make it a minority in many districts.

But the details vary a good deal: SB 1 as introduced is not map H with slight changes. It may possibly be described as map H with substantial changes. Sen. Cervantes, however, did not describe it as derived from map H at all: he said he had studied and learned a lot from the CRC maps but declined to say that his map was based on any particular CRC map.

An enthusiastic member of OLÉ (Organizers in the Land of Enchantment) has criticized me a couple of times in Adelante meetings for saying what I just wrote, on the grounds that OLÉ and a long list of other BIPOC groups supported SB 1 as introduced and later SB 1 as amended. I haven’t yet understood the connection.

The only place in which the Senate map has a visible agreement with any CRC map is in the northwest, where SB 2 and CRC maps A-1 and C-1 all reflect the tribal consensus. Some Senators claimed that SB 2 was based on CRC map C-1 and was very similar — 68% the same, Sen. Stewart said. Since she did not explain what that
figure meant — 68% of what? people? square feet? boundary lines? — the figure is meaningless. But assuming it’s based on people or area, it’s worth reflecting that if you pay any attention at all to natural or administrative boundaries and avoid drawing Texas-style non-compact districts, it would be very difficult to draw any two
maps that were not 68% similar. Also, while Sen. Stewart talked about a relation to map C-1, neither of the sponsors (Lopez and Ivey-Soto) ever made that claim. If we assume they actually drew the map, that probably counts for something. (I realize that it’s quite easy to imagine that someone else drew the map and the the sponsors
were just being good soldiers, but then they would hardly have felt obliged to vote against Mimi Stewart’s amendment to SB 2.)

p.s. Damon Ely did heroic work during the session. Boy, will we miss him.”

Thank you, Michael.

I applaud Michael for calling out Sen. Stewart’s 68% reference, as other Senators made similar percentile references that I could not really understand. Not to quibble, but I would characterize the cracking process as more focused on splitting up a strong conservative voting district, rather than an “oil” voting district. Both characterizations seem accurate, but I tend to think the motivation was more partisan than issue-focused, with the intent to break up a solid GOP district (District 2), while weakening two solidly Democratic districts (1 and 3). In either case, the Senate creation of SB 1 can hardly be called faithful to the CRC maps. But what troubles me more is the violation of important CRC principles calling for transparency. While certainly the committee and chamber votes were public, the generation of the maps upon which votes occurred was all conducted behind closed doors. And so Michael, you, and all of us are left speculating how SB 1 was generated and with what purpose.

All of this takes us back to the FDNM Tuesday, Jan. 3 Zoom to discuss what’s next. If the next step is passing a Constitutional Amendment, is this the year to do so? My contact in the House told me that there was ZERO interest in the legislature in debating redistricting in 2022 and that given that this is a short session, the debate of that important issue would be severely constrained by time and that it would be better to do this in a regular 60-day session

I see the Rep.’s point, but feel very strongly that the NM State legislature, indeed any state legislature, is fundamentally incapable of conducting a transparent, non-partisan redistricting process, no matter how many months an independent Committee spends conducting a public process to generate maps, principles and concepts. Put simply, legislators are human and must, to varying degrees, be driven by political self-preservation and/or partisan advantage. Legislators can’t simply will away or ignore how any change to existing district boundaries will improve or constrain partisan advantage or the self-preservation of the legislators impacted by any change.

Getting this out of the hands of the legislature seems the best way to ever achieve a transparent, principled redistricting process. This will be the topic for discussion Tuesday night. I hope you will join this important conversation.

Please join FDNM for a public discussion and planning via Zoom, Tuesday, January 4, 2022, 6:30pm. Join here.

In solidarity and hope,

Paul & Roxanne.

Categories: Election, Political Reform & National Politics, Uncategorized

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2 replies

  1. Your focus has been in the state while the actual precincts are being gerrymandered at the county level. For those who have been impacted by gerrymandered districts in Sandoval County should file a complaint with the DOJ.

    The 12 tribal nations, traditional Hispanic communities in Bernalillo, and precinct grabs in the city of Rio Rancho. No citizens’ map was considered only bullying behavior by Commissioner Jay Block and Heil. They red-lined and drew boundaries in the dark, where they cracked, stacked and packed districts, split communities of interest, split facing homes in neighborhoods and protected their incumbency. They pushed through Map D without fair community input. The vote was 3-2, the vote was on party lines with refusal to discuss and enter into tribal consultation. They, in fact, voted to marginalize and disenfranchise the 12 tribal nation consensus on map “E” the Eichwald/Bruch/ Chavez map. #FairFight #redistricting #NMredistricting #redistrictingNM

    Make a complaint today to the DOJ.

  2. How ’bout a Constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College? Britton-Purdy’s piece in today’s NY Times makes a persuasive case… (sorry about the paywall).

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