Updated: November 09, 2020 10:23 PM
Created: November 09, 2020 09:51 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As the nation grapples with what has been a heated and divisive election, there’s another political process underway that the two major parties bicker over: redistricting.
New Mexico is set to draw new lines next year for congressional and state legislature districts, and the debate over how that should be done is going on right now.
Ideally, the process is meant to give voters the most power possible, keep communities together and prevent discrimination.
Lawmakers have already started meeting on the topic, and an independent task force has met several times, including Monday afternoon.
The group includes state lawmakers, retired judges and justices, other community leaders and advocacy groups like Common Cause New Mexico, which are pushing for fairness in the process.
“It is always political, and it’s something that is extremely unfortunate. It would be great if the voters themselves, if their voices are taken into consideration,” said Mario Jimenez, campaign chair for Common Cause.
These groups, like the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, want to get politics out of the equation. They want the process to be, “fairer, more transparent, and accountable,” as Dick Mason put it. He’s the group’s advocacy chair.
This is where the term gerrymandering comes in, when a party is accused of drawing the lines to benefit them.
Critics say Senate District 39 was drawn to keep an incumbent Democrat safely in office.
“If you look at it it’s shaped like a coyote,” said Mason, laughing.
The last time the lines were redrawn was in 2012, and lawmakers say they openly favored keeping themselves safely in office.
“[The process] was designed to make sure that incumbents, as much as possible, didn’t have to run against another incumbent,” said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, (D-District 12).
Advocacy groups say —that’s not beneficial to the voters.
State lawmakers also admit that last time they didn’t listen to all the public input they gathered.
“We have to get constituents to put pressure on legislators to do the right thing,” Mason said.
Advocacy groups have seen a huge increase in people’s interest in this process— interest which they say is crucial.
Democrats are in control of the state legislature and the governorship. They will lead the conversations, which are expected to get serious in the fall. Last time, the courts got involved, and it took until early the next calendar year for them to sort it out.
The task force is among the groups gathering public input on what lawmakers should consider. More information on the group can be found here, including archived video of its meetings and past agendas.
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