Constitutional Amendment to Put Redistricting in Hands of Independent Commission Hits Second House Committee Thursday

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  • Heather Ferguson & Viki Harrison

A constitutional amendment to establish an independent redistricting commission will be heard in a House committee Thursday, just as Common Cause New Mexico releases Restoring Voter Choice: How Citizen-Led Redistricting Can End the Manipulation of Our Elections, a report about the 2016 election completed by Common Cause nationally.

  • New Mexico is cited as one of eight states where the outcome of the election—and the composition of the legislature—was already determined before any votes were cast.
  • Approximately 62% of legislative races in New Mexico were uncontested, according to the report. In the New Mexico House, only 29 of 70 seats were contested; in the NM Senate only 15 of 42 seats were contested in 2016.

Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, says the lack of choice for voters is a problem. “Democracy is strengthened when voters have choices,” she says “but the present system in which legislators draw the district lines deprives voters of choices instead of increasing them.”

The reason, she says, is that legislators often draw district lines to protect incumbents or bolster their party’s chances of wining in the next election.  According to the report there is more competition in states where commissions, not legislatures, draw the lines.

HJR 3, sponsored by Rep. Carl Trujillo (D- Santa Fe) and Sens. Bill O’Neill (D-ABQ) and Mark Moores (R- ABQ) would create an independent redistricting committee. It has passed one House committee and on Thursday Feb. 23 at 1:30 will be heard by the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grant and Cultural Affairs Committee in Room 315.

“I believe that gerrymandering is the root cause of our current political dysfunction since legislative districts are tailored to encourage extremity and incumbent protection,” says Sen. Bill O’Neill, a co-sponsor. “HJR 3 would align New Mexico with other states who have rejected such a backroom process and substituted instead a more transparent and rational redistricting method.”

O’Neill and Trujillo are working on amendments to the bill and are confident it will reach the House floor.