Lawmakers in Santa Fe are nearing the halfway point of this 30-day session. Gwyneth Doland of the People, Power and Democracy project spoke to KUNM's Chris Boros to discuss the status of a proposed constitutional amendment that would create an independent redistricting commission.
KUNM: So, you reported that lawmakers this session are considering an independent redistricting commission that would give individual voters more influence in elections. But how is that possible? Isn’t one vote always one vote?
Doland: Yeah, votes are equal, but some votes are more equal than others. The issue is gerrymandering. Politicians tend to draw districts that are going to get them reelected rather than [to] represent distinct parts of the city, people who live in a certain area. So it skews the system.
KUNM: Aren’t there a lot of districts like that? Mostly Democratic or mostly Republican?
Doland: Yeah, and some of that’s partially natural. Some parts of the city and parts of the state are naturally one or the other. But New Mexico, like many other states, lets politicians redraw political boundaries every 10 years after the national census, and the results really depend on who’s in power at the time.
KUNM: What’s the major issue with that?
Doland: Well, for one thing, it tends to put political interests of the people who are in the legislature and in the governor’s office above everything else. And for another, it means that in practice this is a political fight like all our other political fights and the plans are so political either they can’t get through the legislature or they get vetoed by the governor and they end up in court more often than not.
KUNM: And that’s not a fair solution?
Doland: Well, we try to think of judges as fair, and I’m sure they are. But this isn’t what we intended to do. To have one person, essentially, decide this thing!
KUNM: And so, a commission would do it better?
Doland: That’s what the sponsors—and some good government groups—say. They say ‘let regular people do this in and appoint them from these various bodies' and blah,blah, blah. The hope is that a commission of citizens would be less partisan than state lawmakers.
KUNM: It seems like state lawmakers this year are trying to change things more by amending the state constitution. Is that happening, and if so, why?
Doland: Well, I haven’t done any number crunching on this, but yeah all the big issues I’m reporting on this session are constitutional amendments. For one thing, a constitutional amendment doesn’t have to get signed by the governor. So, you get to bypass one step. It eliminates one big hurdle. Also, I think it’s a way to distance themselves from an issue by saying: Look, all I did was to vote to put it to the people.
KUNM: Is that true?
Doland: Sometimes I’m sure it is. But the truth is that on a lot of these issues we already know what the voters are going to say because we’ve done these polls that show, for example, they overwhelmingly support things like an ethics commission or they overwhelmingly support a redistricting commission. So, you vote to put it to the people, you know what they are going to say.
KUNM: And what’s the status of all this right now?
Doland: Well, on Friday Rep. Carl Trujillo of Santa Fe, but they asked him to simplify it a little bit, it was seven pages long, so he’s knocked it down to five pages. The issue is how much of the information about how this is going to work is going to go in the constitution amendment and how much is going to be left for lawmakers to figure out later.
Check out all of the content from our People, Power and Democracy project. It's a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico In Depth, New Mexico PBS and the New Mexico News Port at UNM. Funding for the project comes from the Thornburg Foundation.