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Had the country recently not been on high alert for further acts of domestic terror after the assault on the U.S. Capitol January 6, a revised inauguration, the departure from Washington of a twice impeached president, more of us might have been focused on redistricting.

Every ten years voting districts are redrawn. In 2021 these will be based on the results of the 2020 census. And as the Brennan Center Law Institute points out, “…all states must ensure that districts have approximately the same number of people and comply with the Voting Rights Act. But in other areas, each state has discretion over how to draw its own lines, and, more importantly, over who will draw them, usually as stipulated in the state’s constitution.

“Unfortunately, this discretion sometimes results in redistricting abuses. For example, while some states use processes that check partisan excess, others allow for legislators from a single party free rein to implement biased maps that keep their party in power through good election cycles and bad. This manipulation of maps is known as “‘gerrymandering.’”

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Gerrymandering was named for Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. As governor of Massachusetts (1810–1812), Gerry approved a redistricting plan for the state senate that gave the political advantage to Republicans.

The Brennan Center adds that “…politicians [may] manipulate district lines for their own gain. And over the last two decades, these manipulations have grown increasingly common and sophisticated.” Manipulating the map especially can adversely affect minority communities.

Fortunately, one New Mexico group has been riveted on redistricting for years, the League of Women Voters of New Mexico. And now the league is gearing up with more than 20 other organizations to support passage of a New Mexico Senate bill entitled the “Redistricting Act,” that will create a seven-person State Redistricting  Commission (SRC), according to league Action Chair Dick Mason.

The appointments to the commission will be made as follows: one by the Speaker of the House; one by the House Minority Leader; one by the Senate President Pro Tempore; one by the Senate Minority Leader; and three by the New Mexico Ethics Commission, one of whom shall be a retired N.M. Supreme Court Justice or N.M. Appellate Judge who will act as chair.

Mason added that “Our preference is for a constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission, but it is too late to do that for the 2021 redistricting cycle.” As for the 2020 Census itself, on January 13, “President Donald Trump’s effort to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from being counted in the process for divvying up congressional seats was dealt another blow Wednesday when the Census Bureau’s director indefinitely halted an effort to gather data on the citizenship status of every U.S. resident,” according to the Associated Press. An annual distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending, among the states, is also affected by Census results.

The AP story also said “An influential GOP adviser had advocated excluding them from the apportionment process in order to favor Republicans and non-Hispanic whites. Trump’s unprecedented order on apportionment was challenged in more than a half-dozen lawsuits across the United States, but the Supreme Court ruled last month that any challenge was premature.”

The New Mexico Senate bill will be co-sponsored by Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) and Senator Mark Moores (R-Albuquerque). Once the bill is filed, there will be a number of additional co-sponsors from both the Senate and the House, Mason said.

According to the League of Women Voters, “the Senate Rules Committee will work with the professional services vendor hired by the Legislative Council to develop three to five sets of district maps for the Congressional districts;  Public Education Commission; New Mexico Senate; and New Mexico House. The Legislature will vote for one of the set of maps without amendment. The commission will also be responsible for overseeing the public hearings and public input for the redistricting process.

 “The bill provides that certain factors shall not be considered when preparing redistricting plans. Specifically, it provides that districts shall not be drawn to favor any political party, incumbent legislator, member of Congress, any other person or group, or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a language or racial minority group. The above criteria reflect the best of the traditional and emerging standards for fair redistricting.”

“Fourteen states have created some form of independent redistricting commission and at least ten other states have put in place reforms that have made their redistricting process fairer and more transparent. New Mexico was one of the last states to create an Ethics Commission. We should not be one of the last to reform our redistricting process,” Mason said.

In an op-ed article published by the Albuquerque Journal January 17, former Corrales resident, retired Appeals Court Judge Rod Kennedy and retired N.M. Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Chavez, described their efforts to improve redistricting. “Last fall, the non-profit New Mexico First, with funding from the Thornburg Foundation, established a 25-member Redistricting Task Force to bring justice, fairness and transparency to the redistricting process beginning in 2021.”  Chavez and Kennedy agreed to co-chair the task force.

“Task Force members were selected from over 140 nominees by a cross-partisan selection committee and included people from different political parties or affiliations. The task force is racially, ethnically and geographically diverse, including members from sovereign pueblos and tribes.

“The Redistricting Task Force worked for 12 weeks to study state and federal redistricting requirements, best practices from other states and concerns from specific communities and groups in New Mexico to develop a set of recommendations to be considered by the state legislature in the 2021 session for the 2021 redistricting process. The task force developed 18 recommendations published in a public report available at NMFirst.org.”

To learn more about redistricting, the league offers an webinar on the subject at https//:tinyurl.com/yxnfucry. It even includes a portion of John Oliver’s explanation of gerrymandering. Oliver hosts the HBO show, “Last Week Tonight.” You can watch the entire segment, which aired April 19, 2017, on YouTube.

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