Colorado’s new, eighth congressional district would include the cities of Arvada, Westminster, Broomfield, Thornton, Brighton and Platteville, a preliminary map drawn by nonpartisan redistricting staff and presented to the state’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission on Wednesday shows.
Staff placed the new district in the north Denver metro area for two reasons, said Jeremiah Barry, a legislative attorney advising the redistricting commissions.
“The first reason was we recognize this was the fastest-growing area of the state,” said Barry. “The second was a recognition that although nearly 30% of the population of the state are Hispanics, none of the current seven districts are represented by a Hispanic.”
The map is a major first step in the state’s once-a-decade redistricting process. It will evolve as the commission gets input from the public and interest groups over the next few months.
The preliminary map is based on 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates because of a monthslong delay in the release of the final population data collected during the 2020 Census. Once the U.S. Census Bureau releases that data in August, redistricting staff will have to adjust the map.
“It’s the starting line, but nowhere near the finish line,” Curtis Hubbard, a Democratic political consultant who is registered to lobby the redistricting commissions, said of the preliminary map.
The initial map, the public’s first glimpse at how the 8th District may affect the state’s political landscape, also makes changes to the state’s existing seven congressional districts.
The 3rd District, represented by Garfield County Republican Lauren Boebert, would gain Eagle, Summit, Grand, Park, Teller and Fremont counties, as well as some of western Boulder County. The San Luis Valley and Pueblo County would be dropped and added to the 4th District, which includes northeast and southeast Colorado and is currently represented by U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican from Windsor.
The 5th District, currently represented by U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Springs Republican, would contract to include only parts of El Paso County. Southeastern El Paso County and counties in the western part of the district would be drawn into other districts.
The 7th District, centered in Jefferson County and currently represented by U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, an Arvada Democrat, would shift south to include Castle Rock, dropping some of Denver’s northwest suburbs, including the bulk of Arvada.
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Perlmutter, however, would remain in the 7th District under the preliminary map, though only narrowly — by about 50 yards.
The new 7th District looks to be the most competitive of the new map. In 2018, the Republican candidate won the attorney general’s contest in the new proposed district by 3 percentage points, though a Democrat won the statewide vote.
The 1st District, represented now by U.S. Rep. Diana Degette, a Denver Democrat, would encompass only Denver, dropping portions of Arapahoe and Jefferson counties.
The 6th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Centennial Democrat, would lose some of its northern half while continuing to include Aurora, Centennial and Littleton. Both of those districts went heavily Democratic in the 2018 attorney general contest, and, along with the 2nd District in Boulder and Larimer counties, are considered safe seats for that party.
Nonpartisan staff used the results of the 2018 attorney general contest, the closest statewide race in a recent, nonpresidential election year, as well as voter registration figures to measure political competitiveness of the redrawn districts.
Based on results of the attorney general race, Districts 1 and 2 would be solidly Democratic while Districts 4 and 5 would be solidly Republican.
Republicans would have an advantage of nearly 10 percentage points in the 3rd District and 3 percentage points in the 7th District, while Democrats would hold a 12.7 percentage point advantage in the 6th District and 7.3 percentage point advantage in the 8th District.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll said she was disappointed by the map, arguing the proposed districts advantage the GOP. “While this preliminary plan seems to put a thumb on the scale for Republicans, it is too soon to know how the commissioners will change them,” she said in a statement.
Former DaVita CEO and multimillionaire Kent Thiry, who backed the constitutional amendments that created the independent commissions, also weighed in after the release of the preliminary map.
“These congressional seats belong to the people, not to a political party or interest,” said Thiry. “It’s still early in the process, but it appears the commission is responding to the mandate that it draw competitive districts whenever and wherever possible.”
Redistricting staff also isn’t convinced voter registration and outcomes from the 2018 attorney general race are the best metrics, Barry said.
“Given the population distribution in Colorado, it is difficult to draw more competitive districts,” Barry said. “When the final data comes out from the Census Bureau, it likely will change, and maybe districts will become more competitive.”
Maximizing political competitiveness also wasn’t a high priority for this draft map, Barry said, as staff is required to meet all the other constitutional requirements first.
Those constitutional requirements include equal population and adherence to the federal Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters from gerrymandering.
The map creates three districts with Hispanic populations of more than 28%: District 1 with 28.6%, District 4 with 31% and District 8 with 29.9%, according to the preliminary data.
Staff also sought to keep rural areas together as much as possible, keep the San Luis Valley in one district and keep Boulder and Fort Collins together “due to the large research institutions in those towns,” Barry said.
“We should also point out, many times we received conflicting requests under public comments, concerning where some counties should be placed,” he added.
Staff also prioritized keeping entire counties and other political boundaries together over specific “communities of interest,” a term used to describe communities with shared needs and interests. Barry said staff had difficulty identifying the geography of some communities named by members of the public.
“In this plan, of the 64 counties in the state, 55 are wholly contained within one congressional district,” Barry said.
Staff also acknowledged that comments from certain interest groups influenced their proposal, including the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which pushed for a district capturing concentrated Hispanic populations in north metro Denver, and Club 20, which called for keeping the entire Western Slope in the same district.
Colorado’s population grew 14.5% from 2010 to 2020, making it one of six states that will get one or more new congressional seats in 2022 due to population gains.
Colorado’s seven existing congressional districts are currently represented by four Democrats and three Republicans.
The map is nonpartisan legislative staff’s initial effort at redrawing the congressional districts, under a 2018 constitutional amendment — Amendment Y — approved by voters.
“In this plan, of the 64 counties in the state, 55 are wholly contained within one congressional district,” said Barry.
This year marks the first time independent commissions created by Amendment Y and a companion ballot question, Amendment Z, are overseeing the once-a-decade redistricting process in Colorado.
In the past, state lawmakers drew the congressional lines, though they often deadlocked and courts decided on the final districts.
State Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, released a statement after the preliminary map was unveiled appearing to express interest in running for the new seat.
“It’s no surprise to see the initial redistricting map center on Adams County for the new CD8,” Winter wrote. “Not only does this help keep cities and school districts whole, it captures diverse communities of interest and creates a district focused on working class families. This district deserves solutions and federal legislation that could provide action on water, climate change, transportation, economic opportunities and growth. These are the issues that have been top of mind for my constituents in (state Senate District 24).”
Colorado’s Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission will release initial state Senate and state House district maps on June 29.
Both commissions will hold 32 public hearings around the state between July 9 and late August to get feedback on the preliminary maps.
Once nonpartisan legislative staff gets the official 2020 Census data on Aug. 16, they will use feedback from the public hearings, as well as comments submitted to the commissions online, to draw a new set of maps. Another set of hearings will be held in each of the state’s seven congressional districts on the updated district maps.
It’s not clear how different the final population data will be from the estimates used for this preliminary map.
This year, the Census Bureau is also using a new statistical method for ensuring privacy that would have the largest impact on redistricting at the hyperlocal level. Differential privacy injects random errors into the data to make it harder to identify individuals in small communities. Several states are against its use because it also makes data on small geographic levels, like a single census block, less accurate.
Because it’s the first time the agency has used the privacy method, staff say they don’t know what impact it will have until they have the data in hand.
Members of the commissions may recommend changes to the maps as well. The commissioners also aren’t required to adopt the staff’s maps.
“They can choose a map that was drawn by someone completely away from staff or by a commissioner themselves,” Barry said.
The Colorado Supreme Court must ultimately approve the maps submitted by the two commissions before the end of the year, setting the stage for the 2022 election.