Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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As the State Legislature debates redistricting maps for the state, in Sandoval County, the conservative-controlled County Commission has been under criticism since submitting their proposal to redraw the county voting maps, which has drastically deviated from previous voting maps. The most notable change is the commission’s proposal to lump all of Sandoval’s pueblos and tribal lands into one district.

The Sandoval County Commission hired New Mexico Demographic Research to produce four possible county maps. Each map produced by the company would place every tribe and pueblo into one district. According to Rod Adair, who runs New Mexico Demographic Research, the idea behind placing all the tribes and pueblos in Sandoval County within one district is to provide them with a voice in the county. Others say it’s a blatant example of gerrymandering and an attempt to reduce the influence of the Indigenous vote in Sandoval County.

In an interview with The Paper. about the proposed changes, State Representative Derrick Lente, (D-Sandia) noted that the proposed commission districts were “distasteful and an insult to the Indigenous communities who have called Sandoval County home for centuries.” Lente expressed concern that the proposed districts would rob rural areas of the county of vital resources and funding for infrastructure. He also expressed concern that this was an attempt by the Sandoval County Commission to concentrate political power in Rio Rancho, the county’s largest city.

The Native American Democratic caucus of NM (NADCNM), the nation’s second oldest and largest Native American caucus, also raised concerns regarding the proposed redistricting. “The blatant gerrymandering tactics initiated by former Republican Senator Rod Adair speaks to the continued attempts to block, marginalize and silence minority voices in our Democratic process. It is unconscionable,” NADCNM Chairman Isaac Dakota Casados said in a press release.  “We will fight to ensure our native voices aren’t diminished as to benefit the Republican Party and their consolidation of power.”

“One of the most egregious things that we’re seeing is that the Native American population, in particular the pueblos in the county, are being lumped into one district,” Communications Director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico Miranda van Dijk said.

Van Dijk noted that the proposed maps drastically differed from previous commission districts by how the districts were divided. She noted that, traditionally, districts are divided with major landmarks or major roads; but the proposed districts are divided by residential roads. “They don’t really follow a lot of the logic that you see with redistricting. They have these irregularities. They’re using residential streets to define boundaries; instead of things like major roads or geographic boundaries, they’re splitting up different areas of the county,” she said.

The Commission has been presented with an alternative in the form of the Fair Sandoval Map, proposed by Commissioner Kathy Bruch. The Fair Sandoval Map preserves the character of previous districts while accommodating for population shifts. 

Sandoval County Fair Map

The changes proposed by the Sandoval County Commission have received accusations of “packing,” which consolidates a group into one district to reduce their influence. After releasing the proposed districts during a Sandoval County Commission meeting on November 18, the changes received harsh criticism from the Native communities that the redistricting would affect. “What we have seen is a very strong outcry from the public. People making it very clear that this is something that they won’t stand for in Sandoval County,” van Dijk said.

Gerrymandering is rampant around the country, and unfortunately, New Mexico is not immune to partisan redistricting. Although there have been national efforts to map counties and states based on population, many of these efforts have fallen short. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of immediate checks on this process. The County Commission does get to redraw their own district, and the only check would be the courts,” van Dijk added.

The County Commission is expected to vote on December 9 on redistricting boundaries. A protest against the proposed redistricting is planned for Thursday, December 9 at 5:30 pm at 1500 Idalia Rd. NE, in front of the Sandoval County governmental buildings.