The Colorado population is rising, and as a result, it’s gaining an 8th Congressional District, signifying greater representation for Colorado in the U.S. Congress. The next step is deciding where this new congressional district will fall in relation to Colorado’s other districts.
It’s also the first time the redistricting process is happening since the passing of Colorado Amendments Y and Z in 2018—making Colorado one of the first states to utilize independent redistricting commissions.
“This is my first redistricting process and I think it’s really a first-time for many people, just because of the uniqueness of the situation,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat of state Senate District 19, on July 17 during a virtual, monthly town hall with Rep. Brianna Titone of state House District 27 and Rep. Lindsey Daugherty of state House District 29.
Why does redistricting matter and how is it different this time?
Once every ten years, at the beginning of a new decade, the census is conducted and district boundaries are redrawn—both congressional and state legislative—in order to equally disperse the population amongst the districts. It’s from these districts that state legislators are elected, as well as Colorado’s U.S. Representatives.
Overall, there are three district maps in development in Colorado: congressional, state Senate and state House of Representatives.
Due to the influence that district boundaries can have on elections, one of the primary concerns surrounding redistricting is gerrymandering, in which district boundaries are manipulated to benefit one political party. To help ensure a more fair redistricting process, Colorado voters approved Amendments Y and Z in 2018, establishing independent commissions responsible for congressional and state legislative redistricting, respectively.
“That took the power for drawing boundaries for our state political districts away from politicians and placed it in the hands of (a) congressional redistricting commission and a legislative redistricting commission,” said Curtis Hubbard, a partner at OnSight Public Affairs who was a consultant for Democrats during the campaign for Amendments Y and Z, and who was invited to the July 17 town hall to explain the redistricting process.
The Colorado Independent Congressional and Legislative Redistricting Commissions, explained Hubbard, are 12-member commissions consisting of four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated members tasked with approving the new district maps.
There are six criteria listed on the Colorado government’s redistricting website for drawing the new districts, including: have an equal population, comply with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and preserve communities of interest and political subdivisions.
The commissions will also consider competitiveness in the district, though this is their lowest priority. By making a district more competitive, it can impact the stance of a politician because now the politician has to be responsive to a broader segment of the electorate, explained Hubbard.
Colorado’s population increase and what it means for representation
The number of U.S. congressional representatives that a state has is proportional to the state’s population. Due to the rise of Colorado’s population, its representation is increasing as well.
From 2010 to 2020, the Colorado population increased by approximately 14.8%—totaling to 5,773,714 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As a result of Colorado’s growth, the state will gain an 8th Congressional District and, in 2023, another representative for the U.S. House of Representatives, which is currently made up of four Democrats and three Republicans for Colorado.
Dividing the overall state population as evenly as possible, the target population for each of the eight congressional districts is approximately 721,714 people.
The preliminary map for the Colorado congressional districts was published on June 23, 2021. According to the preliminary map, the 8th Congressional District expands across parts of Arvada, Westminster, Thornton, Brighton, Platteville and Johnstown.
What’s happening to Colorado’s Senate and House districts
While the number of congressional districts has increased due to the Colorado population influx, the number of legislative districts for Colorado’s state Senate and House of Representatives will remain the same. However, the state Senate and state House districts still must be redrawn to equally distribute the state’s population across the districts.
There are 100 legislative districts in Colorado, including 65 state House districts and 35 state Senate districts. The state Senate districts will have approximately 164,963 people, while the state House districts will have about 88,826 people. The preliminary maps for the state House districts and the state Senate districts can be found on the redistricting website.
“I’ve been very keenly interested in this process for many reasons. My district map ended up changing pretty significantly, so I’m curious to see where this is gonna go and where this is headed,” said Zenzinger about the redistricting process.
Potential issues for 2022: the timeline and impact of redistricting
Currently, the commissions are in the process of hosting 32 joint public hearings throughout Colorado to gather community input on the congressional and state legislative preliminary maps. These maps were based on a “‘preliminary’ dataset using third party sources,” due to the delayed release of census data, stated the Colorado government’s redistricting website.
“The big, sort of, wrench in the whole thing has been, as a result of the pandemic and the Trump administration’s efforts to limit the counting of immigrants to the U.S.,…a serious delay of more than six months in the release of the final census data that’s needed to draw the maps,” Hubbard said, adding that the good news is that the overall population for the state is known.
The census data is anticipated to be released by Aug. 16, and after concluding the 32 public hearings, the commissions will draw their first staff plans. The deadlines to submit these plans to the state Supreme Court are Sept. 1 for the congressional commission and Sept. 15 for the legislative commission.
However, due to the delayed release of census data, the congressional commission has formally requested the state Supreme Court to delay the deadline to late October. The request is still undecided, creating conflicting ideas of how to best proceed with the redistricting timeline to ensure the district maps are finalized by the end of 2021.
“Driving all of this, and the—sort of the reason we still need to stick to this end of the year deadline for getting the final maps approved, is because the clerks have to redraw precincts in advance of the March 1st caucuses, and they need to do that by the end of January,” Hubbard said. “So there’s really, in terms of not impacting the ‘22 election calendar, the maps need to be done by the end of the 31st (of December).”
Another pending conflict, besides the timeline, is the new district lines may put incumbents in the same race against one another in 2022. The issue, Hubbard explained, is that Amendments Y and Z state that no map can be drawn for the benefit of an incumbent.
“The commissions took that to mean they can’t even look at where incumbents live and what the election calendar is moving forward. I have a different view,” Hubbard said, sharing that he thinks these are important factors to consider.
“If suddenly you live in an area where somebody that you voted for—who is supposed to be serving till 2024—is gonna be in a primary with somebody in ‘22 or has been drawn out of the district, I think it’s worth sharing that through the public comment phase so the commissioners know people are paying attention,” he continued.
How to get involved
Sharing concerns, offering suggestions and asking questions is something Hubbard encouraged anyone to do during the public hearing phase of the redistricting process. Those interested can find upcoming public hearings, which can be attended in-person or virtually, on the redistricting website, where the public can also review comments from previous meetings.
Public hearings will be held in various phases throughout the redistricting process. While redistricting isn’t an easy process, said Hubbard, it’s important to engage in it.
“Remember this is a public-driven process, and so the more informed members of the public who show up to offer their insights and their experiences, I think the better the outcome will be,” Hubbard said. “I would encourage you—go learn more and participate.”
In addition to testifying at a public hearing, those interested in getting involved can submit comments on the preliminary maps via email to email@example.com and can create and submit their own map for commissioners to consider.
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