Portales to begin redistricting plans

Alisa Boswell

Redistricting for the city of Portales will begin soon now that the city has signed a contract with Southwest Political Services of Albuquerque.

According to Portales City Clerk Joan Martinez-Terry, the company will finish the project no later than Dec. 15.

“We are asking them that they provide us with three alternate plans for redistricting,” Terry said, “and to be able to provide technical assistance in case of any legal action rising out of the process.”

Terry said redistricting happens every 10 years after the Census is completed. It is required by law to balance voting populations in the districts. The process includes redrawing the lines of the city’s four districts.

According to Sterling Fluharty, owner and project manager for Southwest Political Services, the first thing to do when redistricting is to look at the 2010 Census results.

“The reason that’s important is because redistricting requires you to look at your population,” Fluharty said. “It becomes an issue when cities and towns grow unevenly, so we ask ourselves how did that population shift and how can we move the boundaries to get that population back into balance.”

Fluharty said two things a company wants to stay away from when redistricting is “cracking” and “packing,” both of which can lead to “gerrymandering.”

He said an example of this would be a city with five seats on its city council and a population that is 40 percent minority.

“It’s actually possible in one scenario, the ‘cracking’ scenario, to split that 40 percent five ways so that they (the minority) become less than half of the population in each district, so you keep them in the minority status in all five districts,” Fluharty said. “The ‘packing’ would be the opposite. Instead of spreading out that population over all five districts, you would put that population into as few districts as possible.”

Fluharty said gerrymandering is when redistricting causes a particular group (i.e. Republicans or Democrats) or minority to be at an advantage or disadvantage.

He said when drawing lines for city districts, the company also works to make the lines as circular or square as possible to avoid gerrymandering by placing political figures or too many or too few of a group into the same district.

“One of the principles of redistricting is to ‘preserve communities of interest,’” Fluharty said. “Redistricting should always include public input, because people who live in a city or town will definitely have an opinion about how things should lie and about representation within districts.”

Fluharty said after performing a study, the company will present the city council with three options for how to redistrict the city.

“My company believes that when we get the Census data and the community input and work closely with our elected officials and municipal employees, that we can do the right kind of analysis and make the right kind of decisions to make the right kind of solutions and make maps which are fair and balanced,” Fluharty said.