New Mexico Redistricting: Super Districts for U.S. House

by Dean Searcy // Published May 24, 2011
NM redrawn

When it comes to the complexities of redistricting, New Mexico is no exception. On May 14th, It’s legislative leaders named an 18-member committee to work on the monumental task.  In the past, several Congressional redistricting maps have ended up in the courts due to fights over partisanship and incumbent protection - leaving the judicial system to redraw the lines. But as recently as the 1960s, New Mexico elected its U.S. House seats at-large - -and should do so again with a single "super district" and a proportional voting system.

Below is the map New Mexico has been using:













As can plainly be seen, gerrymandering is a factor in this map. When it comes to partisanship, Districts 1 and 3 are about 56% Democratic, and District 2 is 56% Republican. Although having a history of being relatively competitive, each district now is represented by the expected party, leaving the smaller of the major parties in each district unrepresented. Backers of small parties like the Greens and Libertarians (of which New Mexico has plenty, with Green candidates earning more than one in seven votes in two of the state's three districts in elections in 1997-1998) is forced to strategically vote from one of the two larger parties or risk "spoiling" the election. A winner-take-all system (with a threshold of exclusion of 50%+1) such as the one used in New Mexico obviously skews representation, discourages turnout, and shuts out independents and minor parties..

Can this democracy deficit be solved? Yes, by going back to New Mexico's history of having the entire state be a single super district with three seats elected under a proportional voting system such as choice voting or cumulative voting. New Mexico is one of two states with more than one House seat that was forced by a 1967 law mandating one-seat House districts to give up at-large elections and use one-seat district. 

We recommend implementing a proportional voting system over a return to at-large elections because at-large elections remain winner-take all, giving a state-wide partisan majority the ability to unfairly elect all of the state's representatives (as was the case for the Democratic Party for over a decade, 1948-1958). Alternatively, a super district system utilizing choice voting or cumulative voting under a proportional system would allow non-majority groups to elect a candidate if they pass the diminished threshold of exclusion (25% in a 3-seat super district).

The new map is below:

With a single super district electing three representatives under a proportional voting system, scattered like-minded voters can elect a representative if votes are concentrated into a single candidate. Every vote matters and votes for third parties aren't automatically thrown out when choice voting is used. This is because a three-seat super district system would enable any group with 25% support (passing the threshold of exclusion) to elect a like-minded representative. Under such a system, Democrats would be guaranteed one representative, Republicans would be guaranteed one representative, and the third seat would by a toss-up leaning Republican -- but just barely. This would encourage every voter to turnout and exercise their right to vote in every election.

When considering ethnicity, the 46.3% of New Mexico that is Latino (according to census data) would hold significant weight in Congressional elections and likely help elect a Latino House Member; all U.S. House Members from New Mexico were white for more than a decade until 2009, when Ben Lujan was elected when Tom Udall vacated his seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

Finally, the super district system would avoid New Mexico's gerrymandering issues since no lines would need to drawn after the 2010 Census. Elections would be more representative of real grassroots opinion and every vote would count. It's democracy at its finest.