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Following each decennial census, the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are reapportioned so that rapidly growing states gain representation and states with slower growth lose. Then, the states draw new district boundaries (redistricting) to reflect shifts in population within the state. While New Mexico’s total seats will remain at three, the current congressional districts (CDs) have grown at different rates and redistricting is required to keep the three districts about equal in population. Our large CD 2 District grew the most and will be reduced in size in some way to accommodate the change. Similarly, legislative and other districts of elected officials have to be adjusted.
Of immediate interest in Southern New Mexico is how CD 2 will change. A recent headline indicated the district could shrink geographically. Beyond that, its general configuration could be relatively unchanged with small tweaks to reduce population by shifting precincts along the border to other CDs. (Guidelines adopted by the New Mexico Legislative Council state that districts should not split precincts.) Alternatively, a more dramatic change could occur such as an east-west split of the state outside the Albuquerque area.
In hopes of avoiding challenges to district maps created by the Legislature, in 2021 the Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC) was created to put some distance between the legislators, who have a vested interest in what the legislative districts look like, and the process of drawing maps. The goal is to have voters pick their legislators rather than legislators pick their voters. The CRC, consisting of seven citizens who do not hold elective office, has held eight meetings around the state, two being in CD 2, to receive public input concerning communities of interest and the general concerns of citizens. Recordings of the meetings (in-person and virtual) are available at nmredistricting.org. Also accessible from this site is a place to submit your own comments, including maps, and to view and comment on the submissions of others.
Redistricting is especially challenging when the geographic areas are so large relative to the population. Even at the level of NM legislative districts (with ideal populations of 30,000 for the House and 50,000 for the Senate), citizens speaking to the committee expressed concern about legislators who must travel many miles to reach parts of their district. Distances are even more significant for two of the existing congressional districts. Moreover, people prefer a district where they have an opportunity to elect a representative whose views reflect their own.
A good redistricting process is one that is conducted “in the sunshine” rather than behind closed doors and that preserves and protects “communities of interest.” Through the public input process, the CRC is learning about preferences of voters across the state. The League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico urges residents to let their voices be heard. Plan to participate in the next round of citizen input meetings, which begin in late September. Watch for announcements of the meeting in Las Cruces, scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. October 4 at the NMSU Corbett Center Student Union.
Eileen VanWie and Kathy Brook are co-Presidents for the League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico.