As the process of redistricting continues, the public is being asked to weigh in—or submit a map for consideration.
In January this year, the Redistricting Transparency Act was introduced into Congress, and as a result of its passing, the Citizen Redistricting Committee for New Mexico was established. Its purpose is to “propose district lines that are drawn fairly through a transparent, open, and participatory process for New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, the New Mexico Senate, the New Mexico House of Representatives, and the Public Education Commission,” according to the CRC’s website, nmredistricting.org.
While redistricting lines have traditionally been drawn by state Legislatures every 10 years using census data, the Redistricting Transparency Act put some of the power to determine district lines into the hands of citizens, said Cliff W. Gilmore, a spokesperson for the state’s CRC.
What’s in store for East Mountain communities after this next round of redistricting is unknown.
“Anything I would talk about there would be purely speculative,” said Gilmore. “It’s too early in the process for us to offer a perspective on that. The idea in general is to make sure that we’re hearing from the communities out there … to work the district line boundaries so that they make sense in terms of the concerns of local citizens and local communities.”
The intent of the committee is to “take input from the citizens of New Mexico and present proposed maps to the Legislature to consider, rather than the Legislature drawing them,” he said.
In order to do that, the committee holds multiple meetings a month in various locations throughout the state to facilitate communication with local residents about what they’d like to see in their respective communities.
While none have been scheduled in the East Mountains or Estancia Valley, the meetings are also broadcast live, and some are accompanied by “satellite meetings,” wherein residents can come together at a public location to attend a cyber broadcast of the meeting, Gilmore said.
“Geographic distribution is different for populations and communities of interest,” Gilmore said, “and community concerns come into play when you want to have a good, fair district. Ultimately, the idea of drawing the districts is to provide the best possible pool of candidates who’ll best represent the people within that area.”
The committee is made up of seven members, four of whom are appointed by party leadership in the Legislature. The State Ethics Committee appointed the remaining three members, which include “two who are not members of either of the two largest political parties in the state,” according to the CRC’s website, and the chair, who must be a retired Justice of the N.M. Supreme Court or Court of Appeals.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Edward L. Chávez, the committee’s chair, said the short span of time that the group has existed—it was officially created July 1—and the delay in the release of official Census data have created issues with smooth implementation of the inaugural committee’s duties.
According to his bio, Chávez grew up working on cattle ranches in Torrance and San Miguel counties. He served on the N.M. Supreme Court from 2003 to 2018; and served as Chief Justice from 2007 to 2010, part of a legal career dating back to 1981.
The first round of meetings that the redistricting committee has conducted thus far has included public commentary and testimony, Chávez said in an interview with The Independent, but the public won’t have full access to the Census Bureau’s redistricting data until the end of September.
“Had we had the official data going into all the public meetings we’ve attended,” said Chávez, “I think people would have been better informed as to how their district might change due to population shifts.”
Companies like Research & Polling in Albuquerque, the same group that helped Edgewood draw its new commission districts, do have access to that data, and are assisting the CRC with its mapping process, Chávez said.
The redistricting website includes an interactive mapping tool using the latest 2020 Census data, that allows citizens to draw and submit their own recommended district maps for their communities, Chávez said.
The committee will evaluate input from citizens as well as using Census data to narrow down proposed maps. That data does not include political party affiliation, Chávez said, in order to avoid gerrymandering. They’ll ultimately submit three versions each of proposed redistricting plans for the state Senate and House, Congress, and school board districts, with the Legislature deciding the final outcome.
“We have to have the plans filed with the Legislature on or before Oct. 30,” Chávez said.
At a meeting Sept. 16, he said, the committee will announce which redistricting plans will be published for additional public comment, and then they’ll commence a second round of meetings to acquire more input from citizens.
At its Oct. 15 meeting, the redistricting committee will announce which plans will be submitted to he Legislature, and a final meeting on Oct. 29 will see ultimate approval of the committee’s evaluations of each plan.
Though the Redistricting Transparency Act requires at least six meetings to be held throughout the state, with one to be held on tribal land, said Chávez, the NMCRC scheduled eight meetings, with two on tribal lands.
None of those meetings are scheduled to take place in the East Mountains. “We’re trying to do the best we can with such limited opportunity” to coordinate meeting locations with schedules, said Chávez, but all meetings will be available online, and none will adjourn until anyone waiting to give public input has been heard.
Chávez said successive redistricting committees will need to consider more inclusivity. “That’s one thing we need to figure out the next go-around,” he said, “is making sure we have the geographic, cultural, and gender diversity that reflects the state of New Mexico. It’s a multicultural, multilingual state.”
Though some states have deadlines for when their legislation needs to make final redistricting decisions, New Mexico does not. But, as a general rule, “legislative and congressional redistricting must be completed before filing deadlines for the next primary elections for federal and state legislators,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A list of all scheduled CRC meetings can be found on the website, as well as links to join the meetings virtually.