Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's Time for an Independent Redistricting Commission

I just received the monthly newsletter from NonProfit Votes and it contained some good information on independent redistricting commissions. With the 2010 census coming up, and a likely shifting of Congressional districts, now is a very good time to be considering how we draw district lines here in New Mexico. Everyone is familiar with the cynical expression, “it is not who votes, but who counts the votes” that determines election outcomes. The same can be said about who draws the boundary lines in single seat, winner takes all elections.

For example, New Mexico's Public Regulation Commission is composed of five voting districts that vary from 144,000 voters in district 4 to 272,000 voters in district 3. That means one commissioner represents nearly twice as many constituents as another equally powerful commissioner.

In addition to this discrepancy, NM PRC district 3 is composed of 58% Democrats and 27% Republicans, while neighboring District 2 is about 45% Republicans to 40% Democrats (the other 15% of voters are in another party or no party). Of the five districts, four heavily favor Democrats to the point that some districts frequently have uncontested elections after the major party primaries.

This phenomenon carries over to our state legislature even more dramatically. Usually, about half of the seats in our state house and senate go unopposed in the general election. In fact, unless a representative opts to retire, reelection is almost a foregone conclusion.

We are glad we are not alone in thinking this is a problem. Earlier this year, the League of Women Voters of New Mexico published a position calling for the use of standard, meaningful criteria for redistricting. In addition, they support the establishment of an independent redistricting commission to draw boundaries after each census.

Fortunately, we have some momentum to build on. In 2008, at the request of Voting Matters, a Senate Joint Memorial (SJM 23), was introduced by Senators Grubesic and Adair, a Democrat and a Republican. The legislation would have established a study group to look at redistricting and make recommendations to the legislature. The Memorial passed the Senate but died in the House Voters and Elections Committee. Now, the time for memorials and studies is past, and the 2010 legislature needs to create a multipartisan redistricting commission in time for 2012 elections.

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