NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC) is making suggestions on how to redraw the political maps of New Mexico. They heard from over 100 New Mexicans in the first round of public comments. All of this testimony will culminate in a series of plans that the committee will present to the New Mexico legislature by October 31. But why redraw the cards?
At the heart of the process is ensuring that each district has a more or less equal population. “Census numbers, basically, are the basis for all calculations and even theoretical thinking about what these maps should look like,” says KRQE policy analyst Gabe Sanchez. “While the overall population of New Mexico statewide hasn’t changed much over the past 10 years, you see pockets of the state where there has been significant population growth. ”
Population growth can dilute the voting power of residents if it is not factored into the redistribution. Thus, without changing existing political boundaries, the weight of the voice of each voter in some parts of the state might be weaker – or stronger – than their voice has been in the past. CRC will try to take this into account.
The committee has a tough job to do: Maps are required by law to be based, at least in part, on all of the testimony the committee receives, while still meeting state and federal requirements. If they are successful, New Mexicans should have neighborhoods free from gerrymandering.
CRC will submit three suggested maps for congressional districts of New Mexico, three maps for state House of Representatives districts, three maps for state Senate districts, and three maps for Public Education Commission districts. According to State Law, these cards must meet the following criteria:
- The three congressional districts should be “as equal in population as possible.”
- The 42 districts of the State Senate cannot differ by more than 10% of the population.
- The 70 districts of the state house cannot differ by more than 10% of the population.
- The proposed maps cannot divide existing constituencies, the smallest unit of combined area into districts. These are often the same as the polling stations.
- Districts must comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which, among other protections, states that the number of votes of a minority group cannot be diluted by redistribution.
- Race may be taken into account when redistributing, but cannot be the primary reason district lines are drawn a certain way.
- Each district should have only one representative.
- Districts should be “consistent with traditional district principles”.
- The quarters must be contiguous. In other words, you shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood boundaries to reach any part of your neighborhood – it should be contained in a single shape rather than multiple disconnected shapes.
- Quarters should be reasonably compact, not elongated or unnecessarily wavy in shape.
- Districts should try to preserve communities of interest, which are groups of people who share common values, cultures, heritage or ways of life.
- Districts must take into consideration geographic and political boundaries, including Pueblo, Tribal, and Native American boundaries.
- Districts should try to preserve the core of existing districts.
Districts of Congress
Given demographic changes across the state, if the three existing congressional districts remain unchanged, recent population growth in the southeastern part of the state would result in a population gap of about 1.6% in the three districts, according to data available on District. That’s relatively high for congressional districts, which are supposed to be “as equal as possible in population,” according to state law. For comparison, in New Jersey in the 1980s, courts ruled that a gap of just 0.6984% was too big a difference.
The current congressional districts of New Mexico were based on an ideal population of 686,393 people per district, but given the 2.8% increase in the state’s population since the last census, the new ideal is of 705,841 people per district. There are about 11,300 extra people in existing Congress District 1 (central New Mexico) and about 8,200 extra people in existing Congress District 2 (southern New Mexico).
The aim of the redistribution is not only to balance the population, but to ensure that the elections are competitive, i.e. each constituency has a similar number of voters from each party so that both parties have a chance to win. The existing congressional districts in New Mexico are not particularly competitive. In the central and northern districts, around 60% of voters lean for Democrats, meaning the odds are in favor of Democrats, according to analysis of the 2012 presidential, 2016 presidential, 2018 governor and attorney general elections from 2018 led by DRA, a volunteer redistribution team.
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Statewide, the 2020 census showed a decline in the population of people identifying as “single white.” This apparent decrease in the white-only population is most pronounced in the southern part of the state. It is possible that this change in people who identify as “single white” is simply a change in the way people identify themselves, rather than an actual decrease in the population. But, if the Census Bureau data represents an actual demographic shift, it could mean that there has been a shift in partisan support in the southern part of the state as well.
Traditionally, 89.8% of white voters in Congressional District 2, the southern part of the state, have voted Republican, according to data from the DRA. Non-white minority voters in this constituency have traditionally voted Democratic, with 75.6% of minority voters supporting Democrats. This means that the southern part of the state has probably become more competitive.
Meanwhile, Congressional Districts 1 and 2 have also seen a decrease in the number of people identifying as “single whites.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons why these districts are quite democratic – and this trend may have increased in recent years. The current round of redistribution could take this into account and provide for more competitive elections within these districts.
State Senate and House Districts
If the existing districts remain in place, there would be a demographic imbalance of nearly 33% between the districts of the State Senate, according to DRA data. This is more than three times the legally permitted deviation.
Senate District 2 in the state representing Bloomfield, Aztec and the surrounding northwestern regions, currently represented by Republican Steven Neville, has the lowest population with only around 43,800 residents, while several other Senate districts have a just over 60,000 inhabitants, according to data available on District. The ideal state Senate district – found by taking the state’s total population and dividing by the total number of districts – would have about 50,417 residents.
In addition to being unequal in terms of population, the current senatorial districts are not competitive. More than half of the districts are mostly Democratic, while only nine are mostly Republican, according to historical voting data compiled by DRA. Six districts are currently competitive, with Democratic and Republican electoral populations roughly equal.
Existing residential neighborhoods have a population gap of nearly 50% between the largest and the smallest neighborhood, according to data from the DRA. As with Senate constituencies, there is a relatively strong Democratic trend: 40 of the 70 constituencies are fairly Democratic, and only 17 constituencies are competitive, according to voting data analyzed by the DRA. This means that, in the majority of districts, incumbents are likely to be unchallenged or at least to have an advantage.
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The counties with the largest and the least percentage change in population were both Republican majority counties. But generally speaking, the population change did not coincide with political preference at the county level. Data United States Census Bureau and New Mexico Secretary of State.
Towards new cards
As the existing districts do not meet all the required standards, the district lines are bound to change. But it’s unclear how much of a radical change the cards offered by the Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC) will bring.
“It is a bit early to assess how the maps for this cycle might differ from what is in place now,” KRQE policy analyst Sanchez said. “The balance between the protection of incumbents and increased political competition is one of the biggest challenges of redistribution. How the cards in this cycle are created based on these two important principles will be something to look for. ”
“What I would be very careful about is if the cards that come from the independent commission [the CRC] have a different approach in terms of the protection of holders than what [historically] leaves the legislature, ”says Sanchez. “This will go a long way to answering the question of whether this independent commission has gone far enough or not.” If not, he adds, the next step could be a constitutional amendment to remove sitting lawmakers from the redistribution decision-making process.