The Citizens Redistricting Committee had a community meeting Sunday afternoon at the Santa Claran Hotel in Española.
The meeting came after the United States Census Bureau released its redistricting data. The data was released in a raw File Transfer Protocol for usage by government and academic institutions. The Census Bureau will release a more user friendly version on Sept. 30.
During the meeting the executive director for the Commission on the Status of Women Charlotte Madneño expressed concern that the census did not have accurate numbers for the redistricting commission to work with. Madneño was working with the census when the count started in New Mexico.
“When we were reaching out to under counted communities it felt like every time we tried we hit a wall,” Madneño said.
Madneño said that in rural districts the census didn’t have enough resources to properly ensure a count. They could often do a count in one area then not have the staff to swing through again.
Contradictory information from the federal government also impaired their ability to count. The first week of the count the census volunteers were told there was a single form that needed to be counted, then Madneño said they were told that there was a PIN number that was needed with a conformation packet, and that she was concerned that anyone they reached out to in the first week might not have responded to the confirmation packet.
“When we had a question, sometimes it took more then a week to get an answer,” Madneño said. “It was really slow and it made it very hard to gain the trust of the community. It affects things people don’t think about. I’m very sad we were unable to get an accurate count.”
Suzan Reagan with the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research said the actual count was higher than estimates expected.
“New Mexico is usually quite undercounted,” Reagan said. “I think New Mexico did a much better job, despite the pandemic, we did a good job encouraging people to fill out the census. It’s possible that’s not evenly distributed across the state, possibly.”
Marc Perry, the senior demographer for the census bureau's population division said the United States total population was 331,449,281, which was a 7.4 percent increase since 2010, which means the last decade was the slowest growing population decade since the 1930s.
Consistent across the country, smaller counties lost populations as larger ones gained population, Perry said. The largest cities in the country are still the same 10 cities, just in a different order and the fastest growing cities in the country are suburbs of the largest cities in the country.
“The country’s population is becoming increasingly a metropolitan population,” Perry said.
The only white population of the country also dropped below 60 percent for the first time in history Nicholas Jones, Director and Senior Advisor of Race and Ethnic Research and Outreach, Population Division said. However, despite that fact making headlines, he recommended people take it with a grain of caution.
“The improvements we’ve made to the 2020 census yield a more accurate portrait of how people self identify,” Nicholas said. “The U.S. population is much more multiracial and more racially and ethnically diverse.”
Drawing new lines
Local politicians also took the opportunity to talk with the redistricting committee. Roger Montoya, who represents District 40, said his district is going to have to expand, which is a problem.
“The territory that I do serve is vast,” Montoya said. “It takes me about nine hours to drive through. That does not include time to stop and talk with people.”
Montoya’s district is also not very contiguous. Everything connects but it’s impossible to drive through the district without entering another representative’s district.
The panel asked him for his recommendations and Montoya recommended rather then expanding his district further east like the previous time it was redrawn, instead to move the communities like Peñasco or Vadito into his district because they would correct the contiguous problem with the district and were closer in community needs to the rest of the district. Montoya said the culture and needs of the residents near Raton were different.
“There is a distinct political difference,” Montoya said. “I will serve all my citizens equally but I do believe that if that was connected it would make more sense.”
Board members said they were taking roads into account as part of the requirements to be contiguous.
Lisa Curtis, one of the board members, said one of their goals was to make sure distinct groups felt properly represented by their districts.
“When you have a large immigrant population in a district, and when you have a representative that speaks out against that population, what is going on?,” Curtis said.
Edward Chavez, the Board’s chairman said the board was gaining information about the desires of the communities in New Mexico.
“I think the thing that is developing is that they want to keep their communities intact without being with competing communities,” Chavez said.
Competing communities Chavez said were ones with different economic goals such as the rural and urban divide.
Chavez said he found that among Native American groups the number one priority was self determination. Ten years ago redistricting maps provided by the Native American communities formed the basis of the districts they drew, and they were using a similar process at the starting point again.
“Numbers are important, don’t get me wrong but it’s the people who are important,” Chavez said.
Chavez said that the commission was also allowed to use numbers outside of the census for redistricting as long as they could show they were reliable and was working with the state to see if they could use population numbers provided by the University of New Mexico.