NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Is our current election boundary map legal? Attorneys presented opening statements Wednesday in the lawsuit brought by the New Mexico Republican Party accusing the legislature of gerrymandering recently re-drawn congressional districts.
The suit was filed early last year arguing the districts diluted the Republican vote. Republicans are saying this is a case of ‘near perfect’ gerrymandering done by the Democrats in the Roundhouse. Democrats say the new map doesn’t rise to that level.
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“Senator Stewart says, ‘don’t worry. We balanced this out. So now we have 53 percent in district two, 54 percent in district one, 55 percent district three’,” says Misha Tsytlin, attorney for the New Mexico Republican Party, “This is close to a near-perfect gerrymander, in other words, because you have Democrat solid advantage across three districts, pretty much as solid as you’re going to get.” Tsytlin is talking about text messages sent by Senator Mimi Stewart about the new map.
Attorneys said they will present evidence to show there was partisan intent to gerrymander the districts; that the legislature accomplished that; and that Democrats wouldn’t be able to justify any other reason for the changes they made.
The defense argued the State Supreme Court wrote that some gerrymandering is permissible; and the other side has to prove it was egregious enough to to actually effectively pre-determine elections.
“We would submit that there is no evidence whatsoever that reflects that there’s been a predetermination or entrenchment with respect to Senate Bill 1 and in particular with focus on the Second Congressional District,” said Richard Olson, attorney for the state legislature. Olson said New Mexico hadn’t been redistricted in 30 years due to a stalemate in the legislature.
Wednesday was the first day of the three-day trial. The judge heard opening statements from both sides and heard several witnesses. Despite Republicans arguing that the congressional districts are almost perfectly gerrymandered to benefit Democrats, Democrats counter that experts have said the new districts are still competitive.
Rep. Jim Townsend: “Senate Bill 1 judiciary substitute, the intent was to make sure the Democrats were elected in those districts,” said Representative Jim Townsend (R-Carlsbad.)
“With that reconfiguration of the map, I still think it would be a very hard uphill battle. We live on flat land here. It would be a sheer climb to the top to have to make a change to what the maps did to us,” said Senator David Gallegos (R-Eddy & Lea Counties.)
Republicans called four witnesses to the stand Wednesday: three Republican lawmakers and an expert. The lawmakers say they weren’t given a seat at the table when it came to creating a bill that drew the new maps and that it was forced through on party lines. They told the court the new map broke up communities of interest like oil and gas patches, and made it harder for them to be represented.
The attorneys for the state legislature focused on asking whether the new map really would have an effect on elections, and whether the law was created properly: “Did you note anything procedurally improper with that legislation?” asked one attorney. “No ma’am. Just because I wasn’t part of the internal process to design the maps,” Gallegos said.
Republicans have to prove that the legislature intended to gerrymander the new map; that it created an effect that gave Democrats the upper hand; and if those two are found to be true, Democrats have to be able to justify why the map turned out that way, other than just to benefit Democrats.
The case is expected to continue through Friday. Testimony will resume Thursday morning. If the judge finds that the legislature is guilty of gerrymandering the congressional districts, the New Mexico Republican Party is asking for immediate remedial action. Wednesday, the Supreme Court took the Governor off of the lawsuit and left the legislature as the defendant.