The independent redistricting experiment in New Mexico reaches an important milestone Friday — the Citizens Independent Redistricting Committee will vote on new maps that will determine political districts over the next 10 years.
The Legislature will have the final say, as is required by the state constitution, but the process so far has worked. We have seen more involvement from people and governments who are asking that districts be drawn to preserve the voices of different communities rather than to protect incumbents or political majorities.
On Friday, the committee select maps for the Legislature to consider in a special session later this year. Redistricting affects New Mexico’s three congressional districts, state legislative districts and the Public Education Commission. The process happens every 10 years across the country after the U.S. census is conducted.
The ability of individuals and groups to propose their own maps has created interesting possibilities. That’s especially true when it comes to the maps for the congressional districts. The 1st District and 3rd District are heavily Democratic but in the current 2nd District, Republicans have the edge.
Considering what is likely to be a tough midterm election in 2022, both parties want to solidify their advantages. But redistricting isn’t just about political power — it’s about various interests demanding they get a voice.
And with the 2021 redistricting process, committee members went across the state to hear directly from the people. An interactive tool, Districtr, on the website encouraged people to draw their own maps. People could testify in person or virtually, upload comments and otherwise participate in the process. This is how democracy should work.
With the public playing a greater role, it’s important all interested parties — which is to say, every New Mexico citizen — remain vigilant when the maps go to the Legislature.
Because in the end, it’s the lawmakers who will have the power — a group that’s never been above electoral self-interest when it comes to redistricting. Want to know why most legislative elections end with an incumbent winning and winning big? It’s the way the maps are drawn.
With that reality as backdrop, we encourage everyone to pay especially close attention to the special session later this year. Watch for any sign of a backroom deal. Scream to high heaven if one appears. If the citizens committee’s work suddenly evaporates, put legislators’ feet to the fire and ask how months of dutiful effort by people trying to do the best for all got thrown in a wastebasket.
Because this is about democracy — and a fairly drawn map, one devoid of self-interest or gerrymandering, makes New Mexico a better place to live. The stakes are that high.
With the many competing interests, there can be no perfect map. But there can be fairer maps, ones that allow long-neglected groups to have their say and drawn with voters — rather than politicians — in mind. Keep that goal in mind during the vote Friday and the special session.