Council: No Time To Redraw Boundaries - Census Info To Be Available A Month Before Deadline

Albuquerque Journal (NM) - Thursday, December 23, 2010
Author: Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal By Dan McKay Journal Staff Writer
Albuquerque city councilors say they can’t redraw their district boundaries in time for the 2011 election, and critics say that will leave the West Side under-represented because its population has grown so quickly since 2000. 

The issue came up this week, because the Census data required to apportion new districts won’t be available until about April 1, officials say. But a critical deadline for City Hall’s system of public campaign financing falls just a month later, leaving little time to craft the district map and gather testimony from residents. 

The council voted 8-1 on Monday to adopt a resolution calling for the completion of redistricting late next year, with an eye on having districts completed well before the 2013 municipal election. 

Council President Don Harris said councilors faced a difficult decision. 

“Do you do it fast, or do you do it right? The advice from election experts on both sides of the aisle was to do it right,” he said. 

Councilor Ken Sanchez, the lone vote against postponement, said the West Side will be shortchanged by the wait because its population has grown disproportionately over the last 10 years. City Hall, he said, could face a lawsuit if it doesn’t move quickly enough to approve a new district map. 

“I think the West Side residents are going to be disenfranchised by the decision that was made,” Sanchez said in an interview. 

City staff said the council is on solid legal ground, even if it waits. 

The West Side might now have enough residents to support three whole council districts. Under the current system, only two full council districts and the sliver of a third cover the West Side. 

Sanchez, a Democrat, represents much of the southern half of the West Side, and Dan Lewis, a Republican, has the northern half. It’s not clear whether a third full district, if one is required, would lean toward Democrats or Republicans. 

Republicans now hold a 5-4 edge over Democrats on the council, though Democrats had control for most of the decade. Albuquerque city elections are technically nonpartisan, meaning party affiliation doesn’t appear next to names on the ballot. 

The exploratory period for City Council candidates begins in mid-March under Albuquerque’s election code for publicly financed campaigns. On May 1, candidates who want to participate must start gathering petition signatures within their district to qualify. Four council seats — the evennumbered districts — will be on the ballot that fall. 

But the city clerk needs at least a week to prepare the documents ahead of the May 1 deadline, officials said. That would leave the City Council and its redistricting committee only two or three weeks to complete their work. 

But the council’s resolution this week said councilors want “to conduct a more thorough and publicly accessible review of potential redistricting plans.” 

In 2001, the reapportionment involved at least 40 plans and amendments — not to mention two mayoral vetoes of councilapproved maps. It was a contentious process with everyone from prospective candidates to partisan political operatives weighing in.