Edgewood held a special council meeting April 8 to hear a presentation about districting the town, one of the steps in its transition from the mayor-council form of government to commission-manager.
That change was approved by voters by a large margin in a special election last year, the result of a petition circulated by an group called Citizens for an Open and Responsible Edgewood, or CORE. The measure garnered a very large voter turnout, and voters approved the change by a large margin.
The presentation was made by Michael Sharp, Vice President of Research & Polling, Inc., a marketing research company hired by the town to create districting options for Edgewood.
Sharp explained principles of districting, the limitations of current data and requirements under a newly passed law.
Edgewood’s current governing body is tasked with taking the steps necessary for a transition to a commissioner-manager style of government by January 2022, when the first commissioners will be seated.
One aspect of that transition is to create five districts in Edgewood, which could be represented either at large, as the town currently elects councilors, or are elected only by the voters within each district, Sharp explained.
In November, the town’s first election for commissioners will be held, and that election process includes deadlines earlier in the year. The election will be run by the Santa Fe County Clerk.
The most current data available is from the 2010 Census, with 2020 Census results not yet released. Research & Polling shows Edgewood with a population estimate of 5,900.
There are several guidelines for redistricting, which means to “draw (and re-draw) lines that determine which voters are represented by each district,” according to the presentation.
In an effort to best serve the communities, Sharp said districts should have roughly equal population, account for minority voting rights, be compact, be contiguous and respect communities of interest as much as possible.
He affirmed that final decisions about redistricting are up to the town council, and not the state or county.
Sharp’s timeline would begin this month.
Due to the pandemic, the Census Bureau will not be delivering its 2020 data before August, which makes that data unavailable for the planning that is necessary now, Sharp said.
August is also the deadline for the municipal election filing at the County Clerk’s office.
The redistricting effort is meant to create districts with an “ideal population,” he said, which is the total population divided by the number of districts.
The 2010 Census reported Edgewood with a population of 5,884 residents, making the ideal population of each district approximately 1,200 people, Sharp said.
The “minority voting rights” guideline is to ensure districts are not created with race as the primary criterion, Sharp said.
The 2010 census data reports Edgewood with a Hispanic population of roughly 20%, evenly distributed throughout the town, he said.
Compactness refers to the shape of the district, rather than the size, said Sharp. He pointed out that there could exist a very large district within an area that is compact in shape, without irregular boundaries.
The fourth principle mentioned by Sharp is contiguity. He said the goal is to make sure there are no “islands of territory,” or two or more disconnected parts of the same district.
Communities of interest refers to the recognition of, and respect to, political subdivisions, neighborhoods, and geographic boundaries like arroyos. This aspect pays attention to cultural, historical and linguistic traditions as well, said Sharp.
The idea is to avoid pairing incumbents, Sharp said, adding that he had created the maps he presented to the council before learning where any current members of the governing body live in the town.
Sharp acknowledged that redistricting is “rarely perfect,” and that no district can exist in a vacuum; changes to one district could affect another. He said that the process is not set in stone, and that the plans he presented were intended to initiate discussion.
Councilor Audrey Jaramillo asked Sharp what other data he used to draw the proposals. He responded that he also took all annexations since 2010 into account. He said that those annexations have “matched the geography pretty well.”
Jaramillo also asked how soon the town would need to redistrict again using 2020 Census data. Sharp said his understanding is that the town would have to redistrict again by December 2022 to comply with a recently enacted state law.
Regarding the process, Sharp said there would be public meetings to discuss the how-tos, get public input, display the plans, get feedback on the plans, and revise the plans, before the town council finally adopts them.
Following adoption, the Santa Fe County Clerk would assign voters to their correct districts. There would then be an election resolution followed by a filing date, and finally an election.
Sharp went on to present slides depicting three plans for consideration.
There are differences amongst the plans that include widening or extending borders, lengthening or shortening areas with regard to existing boundaries. Most lines follow main thoroughfares like N.M. 344, Venus and Dinkle roads, and I-40.
Another topic of discussion was whether to elect commissioners based on single-member districting versus electing commissioners at large. In either case, commissioners would have to live in their district, Sharp said.
He added that any questions about redistricting can be directed to him at 505-821-5454 or at rpinc.com.
The meeting ended with very little discussion of the presentation, which Abrams said would be a gift to the public for its consideration, before coming back to the council.