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Advocates for drawing fairer voting maps will try again to take the job away from NM lawmakers

Legislative chambers in the New Mexico Capitol in Santa Fe.
Legislative chambers in the New Mexico Capitol in Santa Fe.

After a proposal to take the responsibility of drawing the state’s voting maps out of New Mexico lawmakers’ hands failed to pass in the last two legislative sessions, advocates and lawmakers calling for a fairer, less partisan process are planning to take another stab at it.

The joint resolution would put the question to New Mexico voters of whether an independent commission should draw the boundaries of the voting districts for the state Legislature, Public Education Commission, and U.S. House. Polling has shown broad public support for the idea.

Dede Feldman, former Democratic state Senator and advocate with Common Cause New Mexico, said on New Mexico in Focus that the current process is inherently partisan.

“The Legislature is always going to fall into the trap of having the majority party draw the map that they like to maximize their influence,” she said.

Justice Ed Chavez, chair of the Citizen Redistricting Committee and former state Supreme Court chief justice, said a key difference between the failed proposals and the one set to be introduced next month is how the nine commissioners would be selected.

He said the Secretary of State would solicit and review applications, making a list of proposed candidates with the help of a demographer. Legislative leaders from each party would then get the opportunity to strike up to three people from that list. From there, the Secretary of State would randomly select two thirds of the commission.

“Those six members would then look at the applications, thinking about the geography and the demographics of our state, and would try to balance that commission by selecting the remaining three,” Chavez said.

The next round of redistricting will take place in 2031 after the next Census.

Watch the roundtable discussion in its entirety at NewMexicoPBS.org and on the New Mexico in Focus YouTube Channel.

Updated: December 19, 2023 at 5:12 PM MST
Kathleen Burke, project coordinator for Fair Districts for New Mexico, which convenes the committee that drafted the 2024 resolution, submitted the following statement to KUNM after this story was published to add more detail to Justice Chavez’s description of the proposed selection process.

“The Secretary of State would compile the list of eligible applicants from which the 120 would be randomly selected, as directed by an independent entity with expertise in statistical methodology. The selection process would be carried out in an open public venue. The four legislative leaders, two from each party, would have the opportunity to strike up to three people each from the list of 120. From there, again directed by the independent entity, the Secretary of State would randomly select the first six of the nine members of the commission.”

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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