Every Coloradan deserves to have equal representation and a voice in government. And right now, two groups of Coloradans are defining what voice and power you may have for the next decade.
In 2018, Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved amendments Y and Z, which created two independent redistricting commissions, and Tuesday the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed that independence. We only draw new districts every 10 years, and for the first time, everyday people are the ones choosing their districts.
I helped write amendments Y and Z and Coloradans voted for them because we wanted to end gerrymandering. We wanted fair districts so our elected officials are accountable to us. We also wanted a transparent process.
Gone were the days of “midnight gerrymanders” and shady backdoor deals between political elites. Or so we thought.
2020 was an unprecedented year; masking up, working from home, and ordering groceries weren’t the end of it. The 2020 census, which is the basis for defining political power for the next decade, was not immune from the impact of a pandemic. The final census data should have been delivered already; but, because of complications created by COVID-19, it won’t be available until mid-August.
To keep the mapping process on track, the redistricting commissions have decided to use estimates to get the process started. They’ll use data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, or ACS (a sample that then makes estimates about population), and state data to create preliminary maps.
Amendments Y and Z did not anticipate maps being drawn using estimated data — but they also did not anticipate an international pandemic, so here we are.
The amendments we all voted on created the following process: The final data would be provided to the state, staff would draw a preliminary map, that map goes on a road show around the state, we — the people — would all get an opportunity to review and comment on it, and then the commissions would workshop additional maps, finally submitting a map to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Under the original design of amendments Y and Z, we had the opportunity to comment on maps drawn with final census data. In the current plan – the one for which the state Supreme Court’s ruling this week seems to have cleared the way – we may only be able to see maps drawn on estimates (and then changed later).
ACS data may be the best estimates we currently have, but they are not precise enough for redistricting. In some cases the margin of error is greater than the number of Black, Brown or Indigenous people in a census block group.
As a Mexican-American woman, I am not OK with political power being defined for my community based on data that has estimated me out of existence. Coloradans want fair districts and we should all demand that we have the opportunity to review and provide feedback on maps drawn with accurate census data.
Finally, when voters approved amendments Y and Z, we did so because we were promised an end to gerrymandering – all gerrymandering. We eliminated politicians from the process not as an end goal but as a necessary step in ensuring that we have fair districts and equal representation.
This includes the accurate allocation of Coloradans who are temporarily incarcerated. According to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, the average length of stay in a Colorado prison is only 36 months; yet, the census counts incarcerated people – people who are disproportionately Black and Brown – as residing at the prison for purposes of political power.
Although they have the necessary data and tools available to them, the redistricting commissions’ staff have stated that they plan to draft the preliminary maps without accurately reallocating Colorado’s incarcerated population.
All Coloradans should be counted where they permanently reside and our neighbors, friends, and family who are incarcerated should be no different. In a time when we have all asked ourselves hard questions around racial justice and white supremacy, the commissions should not be denying political representation to people who have been convicted of a crime.
Amendments Y and Z promised all of us fair representation – people with previous criminal convictions were never intended to be excluded from that promise.
A fair, accurate, and equitable community mapping process is within our reach. Our state is already a national leader in voting rights; we should be a national leader in political representation. The redistricting commissions must ensure that our opportunity isn’t squandered.
Amanda Gonzalez is the executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open, honest, and accountable government.
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