The trial over New Mexico’s redrawn congressional map ended Thursday, but the case continues with a state district court judge still waiting for more evidence to be handed over by the state’s Legislature as he decides whether the new map is constitutional.
In his closing argument for the Republican Party of New Mexico, attorney Misha Tseytlin asked 9th Judicial District Judge Fred Van Soelen to rule that the new map is an “egregious partisan gerrymander” and to strike it down as unconstitutional.
In her closing argument on behalf of the Legislature, attorney Sara Sanchez warned the judge against “stepping into the political fray.”
Sanchez said the new map is not an egregious partisan gerrymander because New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District remains a highly competitive, toss-up district even after the map was redrawn.
Over the weekend and into next Tuesday, Van Soelen anticipates the Legislature will hand over more text messages and emails between lawmakers and members of the public.
At the end Thursday, Tseytlin said messages from a congressional staffer turned over by the defense show intent to create a gerrymander.
“You’ll see in our later submissions more evidence of the same character: clear, obvious, undisputed plan of creating a balance of near perfect gerrymander,” Tseytlin told the judge.
Van Soelen has until Friday, Oct. 6, to make a decision.
Reshaping New Mexico’s political landscape
Three Republican lawmakers testified that no one from their party was included in the redistricting process, but they did participate in committee hearings and floor debates during the 2021 special session.
Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, testified that no Republicans were involved in the changes made to the maps between the “Concept H” version recommended by the Citizens Redistricting Commission and what ended up passed into law as Senate Bill 1.
Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, testified that in early December 2021 he was denied entry into a closed-door meeting of Democratic lawmakers and Native leaders about the new map.
However, Sharer and Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, separately testified that there were no procedural violations in the process of the new map going through the Legislature.
“It was valid,” Sharer said.
Townsend testified that all 112 lawmakers each had their own reasons for voting for or against the new map.
The Legislature argued that in order to show that the new map is an egregious partisan gerrymander, the GOP must prove that it diluted people’s votes.
Gallegos, who is also a plaintiff in the case, said he felt like his vote was diluted by the new map, based on his “historical interactions with Congresspeople.” He did not present any evidence that his vote was diluted.
The GOP witness who spent the most time testifying was journalist and political analyst Sean Trende.
Trende testified by the time of the 2022 redistricting, Republicans had for the first time a small voter registration edge in CD2. Redistricting reversed that, he testified, giving Democrats a 13% registration edge in the district.
Trende wrote in his written testimony that the voting precincts that lawmakers retained from Concept H, and those precincts they swapped from Concept H, “took a map that was already favorably aligned toward Democrats, and made it even more so.”
Tseytlin said lawmakers unnecessarily moved 500,000 voters from one district to another.
“These were not politically neutral shifts,” Trende testified.
Tseytlin said the state Supreme Court told Van Soelen to consider voter registration in his decision, but Sanchez said putting too much weight on voter registration data is a bad idea.
Sanchez said it was the first time in 30 years that the Legislature has expressed its policy preferences in redistricting.
In the three previous redistricting cycles, the Legislature and governors were unable to agree on new maps, and instead left it up to judges, who have all redrawn the maps trying to make as little change as possible, according to testimony from Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. and an expert witness hired by the Legislature for this trial.
“So it’s not surprising to see change, and there is no constitutional requirement for a least change map,” Sanchez said.
Trende testified that he ran more than 2 million simulations of how lawmakers could have redrawn the congressional map, and the one they ended up drawing was “more extreme than 95% of the maps generated.”
Trende testified that Democrats are now entrenched in CD2, and that the new map was “a platonic ideal of a Democratic gerrymander.”
Sanderoff, on the other hand, testified that the new map does not entrench Democrats in CD2, and the upcoming race between incumbent Democrat Gabe Vasquez and Republican challenger Yvette Herrell is a “toss up.”
“In 2024, any candidate could win, absolutely,” Sanderoff testified.