Santa Fe Prison

The iconic New Mexico State Penitentiary Riot of February 2 and 3, 1980. The buildings and grounds record the remnants in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

(The Center Square) – New Mexico could become one of 11 states that have passed legislation to address a political districting phenomenon called prison gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the process of drawing legislative maps to favor one political party over another. The Citizen Redistricting Committee (CRC) presented a report and draft legislation to the New Mexico legislature to address a subset of that in which districts include prison populations in their census numbers. 

“It is highly likely that most of the people who are held in these prisons are not physically voting themselves, but for census purposes they are putting a thumb on the scale of the vote counts and population totals and therefore the political power of those rural communities,” Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a free-market research institute, told The Center Square.

The report stated that the current structure “dilutes the political power of people.”

Presented last month, a draft bill by the CRC proposes counting inmates in the census based on their last known address prior to imprisonment. 

Gessing said he thinks there’s nothing inherently unfair in either method of districting and pointed out what he says is likely the true motive behind the concern over this issue.

“Here in New Mexico, the majority of prisons and therefore prisoners are housed in prisons in rural communities,” he said. “We know that rural areas tend to have different voting patterns—i.e. more conservative than urban areas, and that in a blue state like New Mexico is not going to be looked upon as a favorable situation.”

Since most crime presumably comes from urban areas, the proposed new structure would likely give more power to those areas which tend to be more liberal, added Gessing.

Gessing notes a contrasting stand taken by Democrats in the state when the Trump administration made efforts to limit the count of illegal immigrants in redistricting census data.

“The Left lost their minds and said it was all kinds of unfair,” he said.

This attempt to reform redistricting around prison gerrymandering is merely Democrats trying to shore up their political power, according to Gessing.

“It’s all politics,” he said. “That’s what gerrymandering and all these district lines comes down to—it’s a pretty purely politically driven process.”

If he was them, Gessing said he would probably do the same thing.