NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – In hopes of avoiding the pitfalls that have plagued the past decades of redistricting, the Citizen Redistricting Committee is gathering public comment to give every New Mexican a fair chance to choose their elected officials. In New Mexico, that also means making sure that minority groups in our state are represented.
Native Americans – as a single ethnic group or in combination with other ethnicities – are a key population in our state at 12.4% of the population of New Mexico, according to the latest Census Bureau data. This is an increase of about 20% from 2010.
If New Mexico seeks proportional representation for its Native Americans, this population group should constitute a majority of voters in five state senate districts and at least eight state house districts. Currently, Native Americans are in the majority in only three senate districts and six house districts. This means that at present the population group is under-represented.
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Interactive slider: Only three State Senate districts and six State House districts give Native American voters a reasonable chance to elect representatives, as defined in a 2002 court case on redistribution. Voting history compiled from 2012 presidential, 2016 presidential, 2018 governor and 2018 attorney general by DRA. Other data from UNM RGIS.
In 2002, the redistribution process ended up in court, where retired District Court Judge Frank H. Allen Jr. ruled that if 60% of a district’s voting age population were Native Americans, they would have sufficient voting power to elect the representative of their choice. Currently, Native American voters hold significant voting power in only a few districts in the state’s northwest.
To ensure that Indigenous voices are heard and to protect the voting power of the population group, the 2021 Citizen Redistribution Committee (CRC) worked with groups such as the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), a collection of the 20 different pueblo nations of New Mexico and Texas. APCG Executive Director Amber Carrillo says working with CRC has been a positive experience so far.
“The members of the CRC – in particular the Justice [Edward] Chávez and Joaquín Sanchez – contacted us here at the All Indian Pueblo Council and really made sure that Native American voices were heard, made sure that the meetings they were planning were held in a place that people liked and that people can attend, ”says Carrillo. “We feel that they are really interested and genuinely interested in our needs.
These needs to which she refers include ensuring that several districts have a Native American population of voting age of at least 65%, that Native Americans do not lose districts during this redistribution cycle and that they retain the right to self-determination.
The idea of self-determination comes up frequently in public testimonies submitted to the CRC. “We call on the Citizens Redistricting Committee to respect our right to self-determination and to honor our ability to decide what is best for our people,” Arden Kucate, a Zuni city councilor at CRC told a meeting. at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Carrillo explains that self-determination is linked to both governance and identity. “It’s about being able to operate with other rulers, but it’s really about being able to maintain our identity and everything that is dear to us,” she says.
CRC Chairman Edward Chávez told KRQE that there is legal precedent to protect Native American self-determination by preserving communities of interest and minority voting power. He suggests that this year’s redistribution should not significantly disrupt existing districts with relatively high Native American populations.
Chávez says he hopes indigenous voters will one day get proportional representation in the state. But for now, he says the pressure to secure additional constituencies for Indigenous voters must be balanced with other requirements put in place by state and federal laws.
“There is a certain deference we should give to tribal communities,” he said. “I would suggest we look at the status quo and just make the adjustments or population changes to try to protect the districts they currently have.”
While it sounds straightforward enough, Chávez points out that this year’s census may have incorrectly counted some communities, including Native Americans. “It’s going to be a challenge,” he says. “I’m not sure we can do anything about it at this point, but it’s something we absolutely need to alert the legislature to.”
Amber Carrillo, of the All Pueblo Board of Governors, says she has heard these concerns as well. “Census data is something of great concern to all of us,” she says. And while the US Census Bureau has been in contact with tribal members about ways to improve the count, Carrillo says the redistribution could benefit other ways to count Native Americans.
One potential alternative is the number of tribal inscriptions. But Carrillo says tribes may not want to share those numbers with the government.
“Even though it might influence the redistribution right now, I still feel like the release of tribal listing data sets a precedent that tribes, I think, are rightly protecting,” she said. Their “relationship with the federal government has never been very easy for the tribes. It’s a program that demands a lot of us, ”she explains. “And so the obligation to share tribal registration data, I think, ultimately calls into question, ‘how will that data be used? “
Despite the challenges and the fact that the choice of districts is ultimately up to the New Mexico legislature, Carrillo remains optimistic about this round of redistribution. And she says that in many cases, what’s good for the native New Mexico population is also good for non-native New Mexicans. After all, the All Pueblo Board of Governors is interested in a strong economy and good education options here in the state.
“Our values and desires are really not that different from others,” she says. “And so our decisions, regarding the redistribution, are ultimately going to be probably good for the state, and so I hope that is what people recognize.”
CRC continues to seek feedback from Indigenous and tribal citizens. The next step for CRC is to select preliminary concepts for district plans at a next meeting which will take place on Thursday, September 16. The public will be able to attend the meeting virtually.