Update at 5:37 p.m. on Oct. 6: The Republican Party of New Mexico said it would appeal Van Soelen’s ruling to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
This story originally appeared in Source NM, an independent, nonprofit news organization that shines a light on governments, policies and public officials in New Mexico. We publish it here with permission as a part of our commitment to support the best local journalism in New Mexico, even if we don’t write it.
The New Mexico Legislature did not violate the state’s constitution when it redrew the map for congressional elections and broke apart a Republican voting bloc in the southeastern part of the state in 2021, a state district court judge ruled Friday.
While some degree of a partisan gerrymander is permissible, Ninth Judicial District Judge Fred Van Soelen wrote in his ruling, constitutional protections only kick in when a gerrymander is “egregious.”
“Because ‘entrenchment’ is the touchstone of an egregious partisan gerrymander which the New Mexico Constitution prohibits, the Court finds that the congressional redistricting map enacted under Senate Bill 1 does not violate (the GOP’s) equal protection rights under Article II, Section 18 of the Constitution of New Mexico,” Van Soelen wrote.
Lawmakers’ purposefully drew a new second congressional district “to entrench the Democratic Party in power by diluting the votes of citizens favoring Republicans,” he wrote.
Experts called by both the Republican Party of New Mexico and the Legislature gave conflicting testimony as to whether future congressional races in the district that covers most of Southern New Mexico and enters parts of Bernalillo County, are effectively predetermined by the map, or if either Republicans or Democrats have a competitive chance to win, Van Soelen wrote.
However, he wrote, the only actual evidence we have is last year’s race between current Rep. Gabe Vasquez and the then Republican incumbent Yvette Herrell, where Vasquez won by 0.7%.
The Democratic majority in the Legislature intended to entrench their party in congressional district 2, he wrote, “and they succeeded in substantially diluting their opponents’ votes.”
However, the reality of a changing electorate and just one race to give an example of potential gerrymandering was not enough.
“Given the variables that go into predicting future election outcomes, coupled with the competitive outcome of the only actual election held so far under the SB 1 map, the Court finds that (the GOP) have not provided sufficient evidence that the Democrats were successful in their attempt to entrench their party in Congressional District 2,” Van Soelen wrote.
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