Local redistricting efforts highlight tough choices

Screen capture of the Albuquerque Citizens Redistricting Committee meeting on April 27, 2022

At a recent Zoom meeting of the Albuquerque Citizens Redistricting Committee, members furrowed their brows and squinted into their computer monitors, examining a newly drafted map that would balance population in each of nine City Council districts. 

Member Travis Kellerman, a self-described data-obsessed futurist, had asked the committee’s consultants to find a way to empower voters by dividing the council districts in a way that didn’t pack so many socioeconomically vulnerable residents into two districts in the city’s southern half. The new concept cut the city’s International District in half vertically, combining each piece with wealthier neighborhoods north of I-40. Residents of the condos around Uptown Mall would be in the same district as a large swath of lower-income southeast neighborhoods. 

Members asked longtime consultant Brian Sanderoff for some help interpreting what the changes would mean. 

“The International District could end up with two members or zero members [representing them on the Council] and that’s a risk that one takes,” he said. “So you need to ask what’s most important, to preserve the communities of interest or to unpack the socioeconomically vulnerable areas.” 

That debate demonstrates the tough choices that face residents and politicians this spring. Months after the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee and the state Legislature wrapped up their work redrawing boundaries for legislative and congressional districts, smaller governmental bodies are tackling the tricky and politically charged task, with mixed results.

The Redistricting Fight Isn’t Over

Thursday night, at the end of an interactive program on gerrymandering put on by the Keshet Arts and Justice Youth Leadership Council, the facilitator asked everyone in the audience (OK, only about a dozen of us) to summarize the experience in one word. “Frustrating,” said one older woman. “Exciting,” said one young woman. “Impressed,” I said. I was impressed by the way Council Co-chairs Juliana Gorena and Emani Brooks, both 19, used clips from the documentary Slay the Dragon to explain the history and impact of gerrymandering better than almost anyone I’ve seen try.

Pueblo map seeks to spread power, but Republicans fear loss of New Mexico House seat

New Mexico’s inaugural use of a nonpartisan committee in the once-a-decade political tradition that will reshape state elections for the next 10 years could mark a milestone Friday. The seven-member committee created by state lawmakers earlier this year is scheduled to select maps that would redraw the boundaries of  legislative and congressional political districts and send them on to New Mexico’s 112 state lawmakers. The process is undertaken after each U.S. Census to ensure political districts represent roughly the same number of people.New Mexico’s new Citizens Redistricting Committee’s recommendations are non-binding. State lawmakers will decide whether to accept or reject them and approve different plans when they meet in Santa Fe in December. But the committee’s monthslong process of collecting public input from hundreds of New Mexicans and disparate groups provides a window into choices before  the Legislature.

Democrats and Republicans urge early voting to avoid the pitfalls of the primary

After the coronavirus pandemic and record turnout led to shuttered polling places and mountains of absentee ballots slowing the count in June’s primary election, New Mexico county clerks say they’re hiring more election workers and opening more places to vote in person for the general election. Still, there is anxiety about how the system will handle what many across the political spectrum are calling “the most important election of a lifetime.”  Most believe it will take longer in 2020 to know some of the winners, particularly in New Mexico’s hotly contested southern congressional district. And the presidential election, nationally, appears unpredictable as well. Across the country, political strategists who have been encouraging absentee ballots for months have recently shifted to pushing early in-person voting. In New Mexico, public officials and advocates have coalesced around a common mantra: Vote early and be patient while the votes are counted.

Fewer polling places present challenges for Native voters

As the state gradually reopens from its coronavirus closure, it’s not only nurseries, bike shops and clothing stores that must figure out how to do business while maintaining social distancing—county clerks across the state are conducting their first primary election during a pandemic. But the number of polling places has been slashed, mail service has been interrupted in some areas and voting advocates are concerned that there will be folks, especially in Native American communities, who could be left out. Indian country has been hit hard by COVID-19, as NMID reported in mid-May. Native Americans represent 58 percent of the state’s cases. As a result, many Pueblo and tribal governments have closed their lands to non-residents and established curfews in an effort to slow transmission of the virus.

For some Native college students, online classes could be a deal breaker

Antennas and a satellite dish search for a signal on top of a house in rural Vanderwagen, NM, where there is not high-speed fiber or cable internet. Marjorie Childress/New Mexico In Depth

When the University of New Mexico announced March 19 that all spring semester classes would move online and all students should move out of the dorms, 21-year-old communications major Hannah John went home. But she couldn’t stay long. Tall Ponderosa pines are the major architectural feature of Vanderwagen, population 1,700. Sandwiched between the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo along New Mexico’s western border, it’s about half an hour away from Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Education school, where John’s parents teach.

Struggle, chaos, litigation, great cost: NM redistricting

See that howling coyote? We hired a local artist to draw this critter as a nod to the political cartoon Elkanah Tisdale drew in 1812, skewering Massachusetts’ then-governor, Elbridge Gerry, who had signed a redistricting bill designed to strengthen his party’s grip in the state Senate. More than 200 years later, Tisdale’s sketch of a menacing salamander remains the iconic image of a practice we didn’t have a name for until he penned it: gerrymandering. But state Senate District 39 looks more like a coyote than a salamander. It’s a creature that represents another aspect of what happens when sitting lawmakers draw their own districts.

What New Mexico’s state Legislature looks like

The average lawmaker in America is a “white, male, Protestant baby boomer with a graduate degree and a business background,” according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. In short, the establishment looks a lot like it always has. And the status quo is extremely difficult to change. Incumbency is the one thing that most certainly determines whether a legislative candidate will win. An incumbent who is good at raising money won 94 percent of the time, according to a national analysis of 2013-2014 legislative races conducted by The National Institute on Money in State Politics.