Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission issued its first map last week. At first blush, it looks like a solid attempt by commission staff to honor competing constitutional requirements.
Not only does the new map have to adjust for population fluctuations across the state, but it is now required to incorporate competitiveness as a factor and add an entirely new eighth district due to our state’s comparative growth. It may sound simple in theory, but it is exceedingly hard.
I served on the state legislative version of this commission 10 years ago. I remember large conference rooms tables covered in multiple different variations of maps, each one incrementally better in one respect but always at the cost of another.
To limit county divides, cities would be split. To make compact districts, communities of interest would be diluted. To keep communities of interest together, counties would be divided. It felt like a map-making version of an ouroboros, the unending loop created by a snake eating its own tail.
And that is without other pit vipers taking a bite at you.
To nobody’s surprise, the initial staff map drew considerable criticism from various corners. Maybe that should be a sign that the new process is working.
Several left-of-center observers complained about the partisan performance of the map. The primary complaint stems from the breakdown of districts leading to three very safe Democratic seats (Congressional Districts 1, 2, and 6), three very safe Republican seats (CDs 3, 4 and 5), one relatively safe Democratic district (CD 8) and a single truly competitive seat that leans ever so slightly to the right (CD 7).
Apparently having a safe hold on half the congressional offices — and one of Colorado’s best campaigners, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, in the closest seat — is not enough advantage. Or maybe they were hoping that Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert would be more vulnerable, an outcome I have repeatedly written is very unlikely.
To the contrary, this map seems to make the most out of the amorphous definition of “competitive” baked into the constitutional directives by Amendment Y two years ago. The state is far closer to 50/50 than a 62.5% to 37.5% (5 districts to 3) Democratic dominance.
And Republicans should at least have the chance to blow another golden opportunity to appeal to unaffiliated voters like me. If nothing else, the entertainment value of watching the Grand Trump Party implode again is worth the cost of admission.
The map also seems to be very cognizant of unaffiliated voters across the state. They represent between 43.1% and 44.9% of the voters in all but one district (unaffiliated voters compose 39% of CD 4). That is a good outcome for Colorado’s largest, and growing, population of registered voters.
Even if it is exceedingly unlikely that an unaffiliated candidate will be elected to Congress over the next 10 years, those voters will be able to play significant roles in the primary elections that effectively choose members of Congress in safe districts.
Furthermore, the map makes good strides toward empowering Hispanics (that is the term used by the U.S. Census). Specifically, the staff drew the new Eighth Congressional District to include a nearly 30% representation of Colorado’s largest minority group. It is not a full minority-majority district, but it is at least a step in the right direction.
The redistricting process is an iterative one that will surely have many, many more permutations over the next six months. Public testimony, political pressure and media pundits like me will all pick each one apart. And that is before we even have final Census data to rely upon.
But at least the commission staff got off to a good start. That should bode well for the lines that will define the next decade in the state.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq