Week before last, the Democratic Party of Sandoval County and additional plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Sandoval County district court against the Sandoval County Commission.
The lawsuit charges that the new county commission districts, approved by a party-line vote last December, illegally dilute the votes of Democrats, Native Americans and Hispanics. Some of the additional plaintiffs are Democratic Commissioner Katherine Bruch, New Mexico Sen. Brenda McKenna and New Mexico Rep. Daymon Ely.
Although the plaintiffs are Democrats, you don’t have to be a Democrat to appreciate the lawsuit’s merit. You only have to believe, as we do, in the principles of democracy, fair play and the rule of law.
Our lawsuit charges that the chosen redistricting plan, called “Plan D,” was passed to give disproportionately high representation to both Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites.
Plan D seeks to lock in a Republicans majority on the commission despite Sandoval County’s having nearly 10,000 more registered Democratic than Republican voters. Plan D dilutes the vote of Democratic voters, Native Americans and Hispanics by partisan and gerrymandering, including packing Native Americans into one district and dispersing Hispanics among multiple districts.
Plan D flagrantly violates the basic neutral, non-partisan, non-discriminatory principles of redistricting. Our state constitution requires commissioner districts to be “compact, contiguous and nearly as equal in population as is practicable.” Plan D’s districts don’t come close.
By favoring Republican voters and non-Hispanic Whites while penalizing Democratic, Native American and Hispanic voters, Plan D dilutes and nullifies the latter groups’ votes, thereby compromising free and open elections.
By penalizing Democrats based on their political expression and beliefs, Plan D violates New Mexico’s constitutional safeguards on freedom of speech and deprives Democrats of equal protection under the law.
By diluting or nullifying the votes of Hispanics and Native Americans, Plan D violates the state constitutional principle of equal protection under the law.
And by creating districts that are not as equal in population as possible, Plan D compromises the right to vote based on color or ethnicity, further violating New Mexico’s constitution.
The process used to create Plan D was fatally flawed, completely ignoring New Mexico’s law requiring tribal consultation and collaboration. In November 2021, Wilfred Herrera, chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, sent a letter to Sandoval County Commission Chairman David Heil, objecting to packing Native Americans into one district and stating that no consultation had occurred. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas expressed similar concerns and warned that Plan D could trigger litigation.
We know that a fair redistricting map can be drawn for Sandoval County because such a map was publicly presented to the commission, whose Republican members refused to give it a moment of honest consideration.
The Democratic Party of Sandoval County is fighting for a better, fairer and brighter future for everyone. We will continue to stand up for free and fair elections because we believe equitable representation for all voters is the essence of democracy.
Alexandria Piland
Rio Rancho
Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Sandoval County