Few likely thought it would be difficult to compress Belen, currently split among three districts in the state House of Representatives, into one district.
But members of the Citizens Redistricting Committee learned Wednesday such efforts do not come without potentially undesirable consequences. In this case, the move would require pushing a southern House district up into Valencia County to balance the population out.
Committee members were divided on the idea. One joked it would be the Legislature’s problem, not the committee’s, when the final decision on district boundaries is made during a special session slated for early December.
So it goes as the seven-person committee’s deadline approaches. On Wednesday, its members finalized preferences for redrawing the boundaries of the 70-seat House of Representatives.
Last week the committee finalized its proposed maps for the U.S. House, state Senate and Public Education Commission, choosing three options for each as it did Wednesday with the state House maps.
Redistricting takes place every 10 years and is based on U.S. Census data. Among its many goals is evening out the population within each district. While New Mexico’s number of political representatives will not change, redistricting could shift individual lawmakers’ powers and squeeze residents long accustomed to living in one district into a different one.
One proposed map would have resulted in one fewer lawmaker representing Northern New Mexico — an idea most committee members rejected. It’s unclear if a state lawmaker might be required or encouraged to relocate if his or her district shifted too far away from its current base.
Another proposed map discussed Wednesday would move District 24 in the southwestern part of Albuquerque up toward Rio Rancho, which would in turn require moving District 24 out of Corrales.
While that map failed to gain traction, it’s typical of the boundary-rearranging nature of redistricting and how it can change who represents whom in the state — and where.
Since midsummer, the committee has been collecting input from the public, acequia association leaders, Native American community activists and others in its efforts to balance out the population among districts and keep population deviations within a (mostly) plus or minus 5 percent range in each district.
Some groups — such as tribal entities — like the idea of being split among multiple districts so they can expand their influence. Others want cleaner-cut redistricting borders along geographic lines, such as rivers, mountain ranges or main streets of big cities.
As such, no map proposal can be considered perfect, committee member and former state Sen. Michael Sanchez said.
“There are good things, maybe not-so-good things” about every map, he said.
The three maps approved Wednesday share many similarities, drawing an objection from committee member Ryan Cangiolosi.
“We need to send a different concept to the Legislature so they have an opportunity to consider different maps,” he said.
The three maps chosen all reflect a desire to support the input of Native American communities and ensure at least five of the state’s House districts maintain a Native American voting population of well over 60 percent.
Two of the maps would move some west-side Albuquerque districts to the north to adjust to a shifting population in that area. Those two maps would also unify Silver City into one district.
Those maps also include more Hispanic neighborhoods in the Roswell and Hobbs districts in the southeastern portion of the state.
The committee has until Oct. 30 to submit its maps to the legislative body. First, the maps will go to a political science expert at the University of Georgia for evaluation to ensure they adhere to the national Voting Rights Act and do not favor any political party.
That analyst is supposed to turn in his report on the maps — including his thoughts on whether any gerrymandering, or politically motivated redistricting, has been involved — by Oct. 27.