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Every legislative redistricting process needs real transparency

... THE LEAGUE of Women Voters of New Mexico believes 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.

The New Mexico Constitution gives the responsibility for redistricting to the N.M. Legislature. Yes, that means legislators get to design their own districts.

This year the Legislature is taking steps to improve the redistricting process. Both SB 15, Redistricting Committee Act, and HB 211, Redistricting Act, create a seven-person Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC) to develop three sets of district maps to submit to the legislative special session on redistricting. The CRC is subject to the N.M. Open Meetings Act and other transparency requirements, as it should be. The CRC is also required to do a detailed report on why it recommended each of the maps. As part of a compromise, the Legislature is allowed to amend the district maps submitted by the CRC. But as the two bills stand now, the Legislature is not subject to the same transparency requirements required of the CRC. That is just wrong, and why we have to put as much sunshine on the process as possible.

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 preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice to assure 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, which ended up setting the districts, and it cost the state more than $6 million in legal fees. More importantly, it cost an additional loss of public confidence in the political process.

With that sordid history the Legislature owes it to the people of New Mexico to set strict rules for transparency in the special legislative session where maps are considered and redistricting is determined.

HANNAH BURLING President, League of Women Voters of New Mexico

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