NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – For the first time in ten years, thousands of voters across the state may be facing an entirely different set of congressional candidates to pick from under the state’s new congressional district map. The new map was signed into law Friday by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham but the approval comes with controversy and possible lawsuits.

The map outlines a host of changes for some of the state’s biggest communities, redrawing the political boundaries the state has used since 2012. The map redraws the state’s three congressional voting districts and is the end result of the redistricting process aimed at creating fair opportunities for New Mexico’s residents to elect the representatives of their choice.

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“It is my duty to ratify the will of the majority here, which I believe has established a reasonable baseline for competitive federal elections, in which no one party or candidate may claim any undue advantage,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said in a press release. “We must honor the ideals of American democracy by doing everything we can to ensure a level playing field.”

The map deviates slightly from recommendations made by the New Mexico Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC), a new, independent body created to turn public testimony from across the state into fair maps. The CRC spent three months hearing input from New Mexico’s people before they submitted three differing map concepts for legislators to consider.

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Interactive Slider: The previous congressional districts compared to newly signed districts. Data from NM Legislature.

Ultimately, the legislature has the ability to choose one of the CRC’s maps or create their own, according to state law. This year, legislators didn’t take any of the CRC’s maps as proposed. Instead, Rep. Georgene Louis (D-SW Albuquerque), Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana) and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-Albuquerque) submitted the map that was eventually chosen.

The chosen map is similar to one submitted by the CRC called the “People’s Map” or “El Mapa de la Gente.” Combining input from multiple community coalitions, it was designed by the Center for Civic Policy, a non-profit working to increase voter participation.

“The impetus behind this map [the People’s Map] comes from a coalition of community-based organizations throughout the state. We have joined together in an effort to uplift our respective communities through the citizens’ redistricting process,” Melanie Aranda wrote in public testimony submitted to the CRC.

One goal was to give better representation to people in the southeastern portion of the state. “In both Roswell in particular but also in Hobbs, we heard about the harsh economic realities facing workers and their families from communities located in and on the periphery of the Permian Basin,” Aranda wrote. “The challenges facing this region have enormous ripple effects, impacting the entire state economically and environmentally. Yet two-thirds of our congressional delegation is not much engaged with these constituencies. This map addresses this concern by ensuring that the entire NM congressional delegation hears the voices of these impacted communities.”

The previous congressional district boundaries, set in place in 2012, put Roswell, Hobbs, and Artesia in Congressional District 2, the southern district currently represented by Congresswoman Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo.) Both the People’s map and the map approved by the governor include parts of Roswell, Hobbs, and Artesia in Congressional District 3, the northern district, represented by Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-Santa Fe.)

By including these traditionally white and Hispanic-majority areas in Congressional District 3 and losing some land to District 2, the new map dilutes the Native American voting power in Congressional District 3. If the former boundaries had remained unchanged — i.e. if the 3rd district did not reach south but kept the boundaries it has had since 2012 —20% of the voting-age population in the 3rd district would be voting-age Native Americans, according to data from the 2020 census. But with the new boundaries, only 16.5% of the 3rd district’s population is Native American, data from the New Mexico Legislature shows.

The People’s Map also intended to create a Hispanic-majority district. “It becomes increasingly difficult to justify New Mexico not having at least one of its three congressional districts with a strong Hispanic majority,” Aranda wrote in public testimony.

The People’s Map does indeed give the 2nd Congressional District a Hispanic majority. As drawn, 55.9% of the voting-age population in the southern district is Hispanic.

Splitting Albuquerque Across Districts

The governor-approved map may be similar to the People’s Map but there are a few key differences. The People’s Map, for example, kept more of Albuquerque’s west side and South Valley in Congressional District 1, with the rest of the city. The governor-signed map, on the other hand, separates neighborhoods such as Ventana Ranch, Arenal, and Pajarito from the rest of Albuquerque. The governor-approved version makes the 2nd Congressional District a Hispanic-majority district, like the original People’s Map. But it does so, in part, by taking Hispanic voters from Albuquerque and Congressional District 1.

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The map signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham separates several neighborhoods on Albuquerque’s west side from the rest of the city. Data from Districtr, Mapbox, and the NM Legislature.

Some of the neighborhoods separated from Congressional District 1 have high populations of people identifying as Hispanic, data from the 2020 census shows. Several voting precincts in the South Valley’s Arenal neighborhood, for example, are 80% to 90% Hispanic, the census reveals.

“The way the west side of Albuquerque is drawn up in this map is: The more affluent, non-Hispanic white communities stay in CD 1 [Congressional District 1]. They get to remain part of Albuquerque,” Sen. Jacob Candelaria (D-Albuquerque) said during a legislative debate over the maps last week. “The less affluent Hispanic communities, however, are pushed into CD 2.” As a result, the map is “inherently racist,” he told the senate.

“It diminishes representation for communities of color in the Albuquerque metro, in favor of non-Hispanic, more affluent white communities. That’s what it does. By getting rid of the west side, by getting rid of southeast Albuquerque,” he argued, “what this map does is say those are no longer Albuquerque’s problems.”

On the other hand, Sen. Joseph Cervantes (D-Doña Ana), one of the legislators who proposed the map, says it reflects New Mexico. “We have a map that — I think has been well-described by some of my colleagues — as three districts that look a lot like New Mexico: some progressive, some conservative, some urban, some rural, with each of our economies and each of our hopes,” he told the other senators last week, urging them to adopt the map.

Lawsuit Ahead?

Now that the map has gone through the legislature and has been signed by the governor, it is chaptered as law. Still, the debate over the maps continues.

“These maps are far from fair representation,” Steve Pearce, the chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico said in a press release on Friday. “The real losers are the rural voices of New Mexico, conservative Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Democrats have deliberately carved up and extended areas in order to have an advantage. This is not democracy but simple partisanship,” he said.

Representative D. Wonda Johnson (D-Church Rock), however, said in a statement that the maps are fair. “We passed new maps that represent the fair and transparent redistricting process and which include our historic tribal consensus,” she said, adding “it is an outcome we can all be proud of.”

It’s possible that the continued debates may culminate in a lawsuit. After all, the last two rounds of redistricting, which happens every decade, ended up in court battles over the maps.

“Keep in mind, there’s always the chance for a lawsuit,” KRQE News 13 Political Analyst Gabe Sanchez said. “We shouldn’t be surprised if we see that happen again.” Such lawsuits tend to focus on whether or not the maps violate laws such as the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination.