Political scientist Sean Trende has leveled accusations of “extreme” partisan gerrymandering against New Mexico Democrats, alleging that recent redistricting efforts unfairly benefited the Democratic Party. The claims surfaced during the second and final day of a bench trial on the GOP’s lawsuit challenging the process behind the new congressional map, redrawn in response to the 2020 Census.
The GOP argues that the redistricting maneuver, ostensibly aimed at adjusting borders to reflect changes in population, was designed to diminish Republican influence in the state. The trial concluded with closing arguments, and Judge Fred Van Soelen is expected to render a verdict by October 6, potentially impacting the congressional map ahead of the 2024 election.
Republicans attribute the redistricting to their loss of the Second Congressional District in 2022, where Democrat Gabe Vasquez defeated GOP incumbent Yvette Herrell. In the event of a favorable verdict, plaintiffs are urging the court to find a resolution, potentially leading to a redrawn congressional map before the 2024 elections.
The trial also saw subpoenas filed by Republicans seeking testimony from Democrat lawmakers, including Senate leaders Peter Wirth and Mimi Stewart, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, and former Speaker of the House Brian Egolf. However, none of the legislators appeared in court, prompting arguments about legislative immunity. While Van Soelen ruled that lawmakers were protected from testifying about the legislative process, he allowed the admission of text messages and emails into evidence.
Jowei Chen, an associate professor of political science at the University of Michigan, testified on behalf of the defense, analyzing the new districts through 1,000 “partisan blind” simulations. Chen argued that the districts created by Senate Bill 1 were not extreme in their political characteristics and could have emerged from a non-partisan map-drawing process. He also noted efforts to prevent any district from having over 60 percent of New Mexico’s oil wells, a condition given by the defense to replicate the SB 1 map approved by lawmakers.
Chen’s testimony faced scrutiny from the plaintiffs, who argued that the division of the oil and gas industry diluted its influence. While Chen acknowledged that he had never been asked to split up an industry in his career, he stated that he was informed by the defense that it was a policy consideration.
Sean Trende, another political analyst, supported the GOP’s claims during his testimony. He argued that the new districts were strategically designed to shift Republican voters out of the Second District and create majorities in all three districts, aiming to “punish Republicans” and entrench Democratic advantages.
Trende’s methodology came under attack during cross-examination, with the defense challenging the admissibility of his data. Trende admitted that the original maps could not be precisely replicated but maintained that his simulations were politically neutral. The trial also featured Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc., who testified that the redistricting process made districts more competitive.
The verdict in the case will show if the heavily gerrymandered districts, which shifted the Second District from an R+14 to a D+4 (an 18-point swing) will hold up for the far-left Democrats.