County wants equal magistrate districts

By Tonya Garner: CNJ Staff Writer

Curry County officials have recommended creating two contiguous and equally populated districts for the Curry County Magistrate Court voting system.

The Curry County Commission made the recommendation in response to a joint lawsuit filed by Clovis residents Terry Martin and Johnny Chavez. The joint lawsuit, filed in May, was brought against New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, overseer of state elections, to change the current the Curry County Magistrate Court voting system.

According to the complaint, the Fourth Amendment and Voting Rights Act of 1965, written to ensure fair voting practices, are violated each time a magistrate judge is elected in Curry County.

In the current at-large system, magistrate judges are elected by a single, countywide vote.

According to Martin and Chavez, the current voting system results in a dilution of Hispanic and black votes.

The commissioners did not believe it was in the best interest of the citizens of Curry County to oppose the litigation and spend thousands of dollars on legal fees, according to Curry County Commission Chairman Tim Ashley.

“We (Curry County Commission) didn’t feel it would be prudent to spend money on court proceedings,” Ashley said.

In a previous public hearing regarding the lawsuit, several residents spoke regarding the continuity of the districts.

According to Stephen Doerr, county attorney, the commissioners reviewed redistricting proposals from the New Mexico Attorney’s office and the plaintiff’s attorneys before making their recommendation. Doerr said the commissioners were impressed by public comments on the redistricting issue and took citizens’ input into consideration as well.
The proposed districts would increase minority ratios, which were the basis for filing of the original lawsuit, Doerr said.

Ashley said the redistricting of the Curry County Magistrate Courts in this litigation will have no impact on the 2006 general election for magistrate judges.

The recommendation for the redistricting has been accepted by all parties involved in the litigation and was submitted to the New Mexico Federal Court for consideration and approval, according to county officials.

A trial for the federal lawsuit is scheduled for 2007.