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County commissioners consider redistricting plans

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Frank Sanchez, who says he has been one of the plaintiffs in seven successful voting rights lawsuits, shares his opinions at a Tuesday morning meeting at the Chaves County Administrative Center about four redistricting plans that county commissioners are considering. Commission districts must be reevaluated every 10 years after decennial census results showing population changes are issued. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Vote planned later this month for new boundaries

Chaves County commissioners are looking at four different plans for changing the county commission districts, one that divides the county’s residents evenly and others that put more weight on such factors as keeping communities of interest or existing voting precincts intact.

“This is one time out of 10 years that we make the big decisions,” said Chaves County Board of Commissioners Chair Will Cavin during a Tuesday special public meeting at the Chaves County Administrative Center.

The commissioners intend to select one of the new district maps during their Nov. 18 regular monthly meeting.

State law requires that the Board of Commissioners redraw their five voting districts based on population changes shown by the decennial census results. The 2020 census counts were released in August, and they showed that Chaves County lost 488 people compared to the 2010 counts. Total county population is now 65,157.

Rod Adair, a former state senator and a consultant with New Mexico Demographics Research LLC, presented Plan Alpha, Plan Bravo, Plan Charlie and Plan Delta to commissioners.

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He said that another requirement of state law is that the total population of a local government’s residents be divided equally among its voting districts, with only a 5% deviation allowed.

For Chaves County, that means that each district should have 13,031 people. The law would allow up to 5% more people or 5% fewer than 13,031.

Under the proposals discussed, the five commission districts would not vary greatly in terms of their geographical boundaries.

The four alternative plans and maps under consideration are available on the Chaves County website, chavescounty.gov, and in the meeting agenda packet.

Plans described

Plan Bravo was nicknamed the “perfect plan” from the perspective of dividing the county population equally, Adair said.

Districts 1, 2 and 3 would have exactly 13,031 residents, while Districts 4 and 5 would have 13,032 residents.

“It is perfect only in the sense that each person has exactly the same representation on the board of county commissioners,” Adair said.

He said such plans are typically not recommended because they would require splitting voting precincts.

Plan Alpha would increase the percentage of Hispanic representation in most districts, Adair said.

“Under this plan, there are four majority Hispanic districts, three of which are majority adult Hispanic commission districts,” he said.

District 3 would be the only district with less than 50% Hispanic representation. Instead, it would have 38% Hispanic representation, with 33.1% adult Hispanic representation.

Hispanics represent 56.9% of the overall county population and 52.3% of the adult population and are considered a community of interest.

“Neither the Native American nor Black nor Asian population in Chaves County represents a high enough segment of the population to be able to create its own interest group or district that is concerned with that ethnicity or race,” Adair said.

Plan Charlie makes the least adjustments from the current districts, Adair said.

“It ends up with three majority Hispanic districts and three that are majority adult Hispanic commission districts,” he said.

Those districts are 1, 2 and 3. District 5 would be close to majority percentages, though, with 48.8% Hispanics and 43.7% adult Hispanics.

Plan Delta would make a significant boost in the Hispanic population of District 1 from about 68% to 73.5%. The Hispanic population of District 2 also would increase some, to 65.4% of the population. The Hispanic population of District 4 would remain about the same at 61.1%

“Plan D has the largest percentage deviation, with Plan A having the second largest, but that is only in town,” noted Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr. With the term town, he was referring to the city of Roswell.

For Plan Delta, the deviation would be 4.8% for two districts — District 2 with a positive 4.8% deviation and District 4 with a negative 4.8% deviation. District 3 would have a negative 3.3% deviation, while District 5 would have 0.8% fewer than the 13,031 count.

Local voting rights advocate speaks

Frank Sanchez of Roswell was the only member from the general public to speak.

He described himself as one of the plaintiffs in seven successful voting rights lawsuits in New Mexico that date back 40 years. He said there are three other factors to consider in redrawing districts, in addition to the 5% deviation requirement: equal representation, contiguity of land and communities of interest.

“You must comply with the Voting Rights Act, especially section 2, which basically says that you cannot crack or pack communities,” he said. “Cracking means going to the core of a (community of interest) and splitting it up into parts that weakens a district.”

Packing is when districts are redrawn to have 80% to 90% of the population belonging to a certain group.

He said that, of the plans presented, he preferred Plan Alpha or Plan Delta.

He said he preferred Plan D because it keeps east Roswell communities of interest intact. Plan A was his second option because it also keeps Hispanic neighborhoods and precincts together.

Ramifications for commissioners

Adair also explained that the only commissioners who need to be concerned about whether they will live in the district which they were elected to serve after redrawing boundaries are those who were elected in 2018 and are eligible to run for a second term in 2022. For such political candidates, the redrawn districts take effect in 2022.

For Chaves County, that would be District 1 Commissioner Dara Dana. However, as Dana confirmed after the meeting, none of the plans presented by Adair would place her outside District 1.

Commissioners voted into office in 2020 will be able to serve in their districts until their terms end in 2024 regardless of how redistricting affects commission boundaries, Adair said. In those cases, the new district boundaries will take effect for candidates running in 2024.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7110, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.