Colorado thrives on competition. The mountains host the X-Games, bicyclists pedal the plains, professional teams strive for the top, and it hosts many of the world’s finest at the Olympic Training Center. In 2018, that same competitive spirit, this time among voters, approved a new era of political competition in Colorado when they approved independent redistricting and kicked gerrymandering to the curb.
Wait. What is gerrymandering?
The word is a mashup of the name of 19th-Century Massachusetts Governor Eldridge Gerry and a cartoonish rendition of a salamander. Gerry failed to veto a convoluted state legislative district resembling the creature. Instead, the district boundary was approved as deliberately drawn to disadvantage specific populations, tipping the scales at the ballot box. The practice continues today, every 10 years when state lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional districts.
Gerrymandering stifles competition in the same way as if an Olympic athlete were given an advantage over other gold-medal hopefuls. It leaves spectators disappointed with the integrity of the game, and the athlete eventually attends fewer practices, demonstrating a halfhearted commitment to the sport and to those who helped get them so far. Unfortunately, in many American congressional elections, candidates behave this way. They claim the gold while voters are left to fight over confetti.
Gerrymandering causes many to lose trust in our institutions, damaging what little faith some have left in each other and the government we’ve built. If you find yourself now mumbling about how little faith you already have in government, that is my point! We deserve to have greater confidence that our elected leaders are representing us, and not their bank account.
Back in the Centennial State, the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission, made up of twelve members, has drawn up its first draft of a new legislative and congressional map. It requires at least eight votes to be approved. Commissioners come from various backgrounds and communities from around the state and consist of four Republicans, four Democrats, and four unaffiliated voters.
The commission already has shown signs of prioritizing voters over political parties by factoring in statewide population, demographics, geography, and, to the extent possible, considering common community interests. Then they cluster neighboring communities into districts. The result provides a challenge to any candidate or party trying to tip the scale in their favor, making the districts more competitive.
In Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, after Lauren Boebert beat incumbent Congressman Scott Tipton in the 2020 primary election, she bested her general-election opponent by six points, despite behavior that suggested she would not earnestly appeal to the center or center-right voters.
However, in the Redistricting Commission’s proposed 2022 congressional district map, the new 3rd District appears to be even more moderate than today’s district. In 2020, a near-even split of votes was cast to each presidential candidate within the boundaries of the proposed new 3rd District, making it likely that the political center will hold that much more sway in the next election.
Though Congresswoman Boebert could hold onto the seat, her tactics have to adapt to the district’s new, more moderate makeup. Her opponent also will need to refrain from some divisive attacks common in gerrymandered districts around the country.
For political candidates running in more competitive races, rather than appealing to a small percentage of their party’s loyal activists, a winning strategy must include engaging the interests of the district’s broader population. The opposite is true in many elections, where the results are baked into the district’s makeup to assure one party’s victory.
It doesn’t have to be this way. When candidates have to appeal to most voters, more people are represented rather than just enough to get a primary win. A need for new ideas creates a competitive factor that drives innovation in governing, bringing more ideas to the table. Some say they’re tired of the same old problems in government. I say voters are the incentive candidates need to create new ideas.
In elections across the nation, many voices go unheard. It is not just because their candidate lost, but because the winner didn’t need their vote. Those congressional members continue to collect paychecks, are wined and dined, and thumb their nose at most of us, their neighbors. Consider our history: What have you witnessed Americans do to ensure their voice is heard?
We cannot afford to keep recycling a destructive method of centuries past like gerrymandering. It destroys what we have fought to preserve for future generations. At times, Lincoln’s exaltation of “government of the people” feels like such a distant concept. Many often feel they are just not represented and have no voice with their vote. Yet, when citizens check out of democracy, democracy eventually returns the favor.
In the ongoing fight for self governance, it’s gerrymandering or America, and it’s time to pick a side.
Justin Kurth is a Marine Corps veteran, state leader for Stand Up Republic Colorado, and CSU-Pueblo undergraduate student majoring in political science. He and his family live in Penrose.
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The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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