Tuesday, June 7, 2011

ACLU sues Albuquerque to force redistricting

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico is demanding that the City of Albuquerque reverse its decision to postpone redistricting until after the upcoming city council elections in October 2011.

Yesterday the group filed this lawsuit in state district court.

Data from the 2010 census shows that Albuquerque’s West Side experienced significant population growth, while other areas of the city remained stagnant or shrunk in population. The ACLU said it believes the Albuquerque City Council will dilute the voting power of residents on the West Side.

“At the heart of our democracy is the principle of ‘one person, one vote’,” ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson said. “When one city council district is grossly underrepresented, other areas of the city speak with a louder voice when it comes to making decisions about political leadership, bond proposals, and other important issues that affect us all. Failing to redistrict waters down the vote of citizens living in high-growth areas.”

The City of Albuquerque is divided into nine separate districts, each holding one seat on the city council. By law the boundaries of these districts must be drawn in such a way that each district is roughly equal in population. According to the latest census data, District 1 and District 5—both on the West Side—have 90,170 and 83,165 residents respectively. The remaining seven districts all have constituencies ranging in the low to mid-50,000 range.

For the past three decades following the release of new census data, the City of Albuquerque has moved swiftly to redistrict before the next city council election, ensuring that all areas of the city remained equally represented. This year, with full knowledge of the current major imbalance, the city chose to postpone redistricting until after the October 2011 city council election.

“The entire purpose of census data is to make sure that our government accurately represents who we are and the communities we live in,” ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorney David Urias said. “By ignoring the latest census data, the Albuquerque City Council devalues the votes of almost two-fifths of the city’s population.”

The ACLU claims its lawsuit represents more than 170,000 people living on the city's "underrepresented" West Side, the ACLU of New Mexico asks the court to prohibit the City Council of the City of Albuquerque from holding elections until they have completed redistricting as required under the Constitution.

Cities are constitutionally required to reapportion voting districts every 10 years following the release of federal census data to ensure equal representation among voters.

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