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A preliminary map of Colorado's congressional districts, including a new 8th Congressional District. This is the first draft presented by nonpartisan staff to Colorado's Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission on June 23, 2021.

The commission overseeing the once-a-decade redrawing of Colorado’s congressional map has given itself an extra month to submit a final plan to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The extension is aimed at giving the commission’s staff time to crunch final population data expected later this month and avoid cutting back public hearings on how the state’s eight districts should be drawn. 

Under the extension, the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission will vote to adopt a final map no later than Sept. 28, which would give nonpartisan redistricting staff three days to prepare the materials for submission to the court by Oct. 1. The panel will also hold additional public hearings.

Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the deadline and approve a new timeline at a meeting Monday afternoon. 

The decision comes after the Congressional Commission filed a petition last month asking the Supreme Court to extend the deadline to Oct. 28 from Sept. 1, citing an “extraordinary and highly challenging redistricting year” in which final population data from the U.S. Census Bureau used to draw maps will be more than four months late. 

MORE: Colorado’s new redistricting process faces a time crunch. The state Supreme Court will decide whether to push back deadlines.

The state constitution includes language authorizing the commission to adjust deadlines if there are conditions outside their control.

Commissioners were also seeking approval from the Supreme Court to cut back some public hearings and use 2019 population estimates to draw their final map as a last resort if the data arrives even later than expected and deadlines cannot not be extended.

The court is still weighing the commission’s request, but it issued an order last week setting an Oct. 8 deadline for outside parties to submit opinions on the congressional map, as well as an Oct. 12 hearing date and Nov. 1 deadline for the court to issue its opinion. 

Although the order didn’t change the commission’s map-drawing deadline, commissioners saw the ruling as an opening for the commission to act and extend their deadline to Oct. 1, Commissioner Bill Leone said. 

“We asked for a schedule, and they gave us a slightly different schedule — it’s not as much as we asked for, but it’s more than we have,” Leone said about the court order. 

Commissioners also voted to approve dates for the release of three staff-drawn congressional maps and additional public hearings: 

  • Sept. 5: first staff plan released
  • Sept. 6: presentation on first staff plan
  • Sept. 7-11: public hearings on first staff plan
  • Sept. 15: second staff plan released
  • Sept. 16: presentation on second staff plan 
  • Sept. 23: third staff plan released
  • Sept. 24: presentation on third staff plan and amendments
  • Sept. 28: deadline to approve final map

The congressional commission, and its counterpart, the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, are under pressure to wrap up the redistricting process well before the end of the year.

In a briefing to the Supreme Court, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office warned that failing to adopt final maps by the end of the year would require that the June 2022 primary be pushed back, impacting a host of deadlines for next year’s election.

A number of advocacy groups have also raised concerns about the use of population estimates in the mapping process, including concerns the estimates undercount the state’s rapidly growing Latino population and hard-to-reach communities reflected in last-minute census outreach. 

The Legislative Redistricting Commission, which will draw state Senate and House maps, has not voted on whether to extend its Sept. 15 constitutional deadline to submit final maps. In a briefing to the Supreme Court, the Legislative Commission said it would follow a timeline similar to the Congressional Commission. 

The court order also set Oct. 22 as the date for outside parties to submit opinions on the new state Senate and House maps, with oral arguments on Oct. 25 and a final ruling expected on Nov. 15. 

Thy Vo is a freelance journalist and former Colorado Sun staff member.

Twitter: @thyanhvo