New Mexico considers switch to redistricting commission
By MORGAN LEE
Jan. 19, 2018
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A new effort is underway to hand over New Mexico's post-2020 redistricting process to an independent commission in a push to make Statehouse races more competitive.
Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque says the current redistricting process that is led by lawmakers discourages competitive elections and fosters political apathy as incumbent legislators cling to territorial advantages.
He and two Democratic counterparts in the House and Senate are pushing for a constitutional amendment to create a commission to help redraw congressional and state legislative districts following the 2020 U.S. Census. Approval by the Legislature would send the proposal to voters in November general elections.
Sponsors of the measure say they see no major statewide partisan bias in the current district lines for legislative seats. Democrats dominate overall state voter registration rolls, and currently hold a 38-32 majority in the House and a 26-16 advantage in the Senate.
At the same time, noncompetitive districts have made lawmakers less responsive to voters, said Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, an amendment co-sponsor.
"They've made some extremely safe seats that are noncompetitive, thus allowing politicians to act in whatever way they chose rather than for the people as a whole," he said Friday.
Thirteen states have commissions with primary responsibility for planning state legislative districts, while 10 other states rely on commissions to advise legislators or make decisions when legislators cannot agree, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
New Mexico's proposed amendment contains a few guiding principles for drawing district lines, emphasizing the preservation of political boundaries around communities of common interest.
Several proposals over the past decade to move New Mexico to a commission system have failed to gain traction in the Legislature.
"I believe that if there's an opportunity to get this bill through, it would be this year," Trujillo.
Senate majority leader Peter Wirth, a Democrat, said Thursday he is open to discussion of the issue during the current 30-day legislative session, but said budget matters are lawmakers' top priority.
If the amendment is approved by lawmakers and voters, follow-up legislation would determine the number of seats on the commission and the appointment process. Trujillo said he envisions a five-member commission with no more than two Democrats and two Republicans, balancing the commission and leaving room for an independent.
Redistricting in New Mexico begins with lawmakers touring the state to gather public comments and hiring consultants to devise district boundaries. During the last two redistricting efforts, final legislative boundaries were decided by judges because of unresolvable conflicts between Democrat-led Legislatures and Republican governors.