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The New Mexico Redistricting Process Needs Sunshine

Letter to the Editor Published in the ABQ Journal March 25, 2020

Last week was National Sunshine Week. Initiated in 2005, it is sponsored by the News Leaders Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and is meant to promote open government and public access to information.

The League of Women Voters of New Mexico believes that one area of government that would benefit from more sunshine is the redistricting process that takes place every 10 years following the U.S. census. To that end the League has launched the Fair Districts for New Mexico Project that now has over 20 supporting organizations.

New Mexico has a long history of having its redistricting maps litigated and decided by the courts. From the 1960 redistricting cycle until 1991, New Mexico was forced to get pre-clearance by the US Department of Justice to assure that the maps approved by the legislature and the governor complied with federal standards for fair representation. In 1995, DOJ once again required pre-clearance after the 1992 amended maps violated the standards.

The 2001 and 2011 redistricting cycles ended up in the courts. The courts ended up setting the districts and it cost the state more than $6 million in legal costs. More importantly, it cost an additional loss of public confidence in the political process.

That is why the Fair Districts for New Mexico Project is requesting that the Legislative Council create a cross-partisan Redistricting Task Force that would include legislators, public members, representatives from the Governor’s office and the Secretary of State. The task force should start meeting in late spring of 2020 and report its recommendations to the relevant legislative interim committee and to the 2021 Legislature.

New Mexico was one of the last states to create an independent ethics commission. It should not be one of the last states to institute reforms that will make the redistricting process fairer and more transparent.

Richard Mason
Leader of the Fair Districts for New Mexico Project
League of Women Voters of New Mexico