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The Colorado Capitol is seen on Monday, June 7, 2021, during the final days of the 2021 legislative session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado is about to experience a hot redistricting summer as two appointed commissions prepare to draw new congressional and legislative maps and then hit the road to seek public input on them.

The maps will include a new, eighth congressional district and redraw Colorado’s seven other U.S. House seats to account for the state’s 14.5% population growth from 2010 to 2020. The legislative commission, meanwhile, will redraw the state’s 65 House and 35 Senate seats based on that population change.

Preliminary maps will be completed this month, but already the commissions have received more than 400 comments from people and organizations. 

“We really are hoping and encouraging community members to participate in the public comment and the public hearings,” said Carly Hare, an unaffiliated voter who lives in Frederick and chairs the 12-member commission redrawing congressional districts. 

Carlos Perez, an unaffiliated voter from Colorado Springs who chairs the 12-member commission redrawing legislative districts, agreed.  “We want to hear from the public,” he said. “We want to hear what you believe we should be doing and identifying communities of interest.” 

Committees and subcommittees for the two committees have spent more than 200 hours in meetings since early April, with nearly two thirds of that time taken up by the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission.

And lobbyists are registering to influence the congressional commission and the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, which were created by voter approval of constitutional Amendments Y and Z in 2018 to take the politics out of redrawing congressional and legislative districts. 

First maps will arrive by June 23

A delay in the release of 2020 Census data means nonpartisan staff are using other data, including 2019 population estimates, to draw the preliminary maps. Those who want to offer input before preliminary maps are drawn by nonpartisan staff have until June 13 to comment on the new  congressional districts and June 18 to comment on the new  state House and Senate districts.

The preliminary congressional district maps will be revealed June 23, while the preliminary legislative maps will be presented on June 28. Three public hearings on those plans will be held in each congressional district between July 7 and Aug. 30. Input from those hearings will inform map drafts using final census data.

How the commissions are prioritizing transparency 

Transparency and public input is a major feature of the new redistricting commissions.

Here are some key elements aimed at helping people get involved: 

How the public can get involved

There are several ways to offer ideas and input on how congressional and legislative lines should be redrawn. 

Again, those who want to comment before preliminary maps are drawn must submit to the congressional commission by June 13 and to the legislative commission by June 18, though comments will be accepted throughout the process.

Here are the ways people can offer their opinions to the commissions:

  • Both commissions are allowing public comments. The legislative commission takes comments at its weekly Friday meetings, which begin at 1 p.m. The congressional commission allows comments on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month, with meetings beginning at 2 p.m. Those who want to address the full commission must apply online to speak.
  • People may also submit comments online by filling out a form. That form accepts file uploads.
  • Email submissions are also accepted. People are asked to include their names and zip codes.

All the public comments and submitted attachments are made public, with online comments displayed on the website and emailed comments and attachments available to view and download.

Amendments Y and Z require the commissions to hold three public hearings in each of the state’s seven congressional districts. Those July and August hearings likely will be held jointly, and commission staff on Friday announced 32 potential locations for the hearings.

Input from those hearings and information submitted electronically will be used when final census data is available in August and September for commission staff to draw final maps.

Another seven public hearings, one in each congressional district, will be held after final map proposals are drafted to get input before final maps are submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court for approval.

Who is on the commissions

Each commission includes four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated voters. They were selected by a panel of judges with input in some instances from top Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. 

To give staff directions on map drawing, at least eight commissioners, including at least, one unaffiliated member, must agree on the recommendations.

While some of the commissioners have past political experience, none have held elected office. And others, like Hare, a nonprofit administrator, don’t have political experience.

“This is a way for me to support democracy and contribute service,” said Hare, who doesn’t have any political background. “Because I will never run for elected office myself.”

What to know about the process

Congressional and legislative districts (and sometimes county commission or city council districts) are redrawn every 10 years based on new U.S. Census data.

Criteria for the new legislative and congressional maps includes:

  • Equal population. The eight congressional districts would include 721,714 people, the 35 state Senate districts 164,963 and the 65 state House seats 88,826.
  • Guaranteeing voting rights for all, including people of color.
  • Preservation of communities of interests as well as geographic divisions such as counties, cities and towns, while also making districts compact.
  • Creating competitive districts whenever possible.
  • A prohibition on political gerrymandering or drawing districts to benefit a political party, incumbent or candidate.

Although several groups and people are making specific requests to the commissions on where the lines are drawn, nonpartisan staff must follow the guidelines set out in the constitution as well as priorities designated by commission members. 

Because of delays caused by coronavirus as well as the Trump administration’s failed effort to include a citizenship question, the Census Bureau didn’t deliver detailed data needed to draw new districts in late March as expected. Instead the data will be delivered by the end of September.

What questions do you have about congressional and/or legislative redistricting in Colorado? Ask here and we’ll answer them.

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...