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Commissioners listen to public testimony during a redistricting meeting on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, at the Eagle Pointe Recreation Center in Commerce City. The Colorado Independent Congressional and Legislative Redistricting Commissions draw Colorado's legislative districts for 2021. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

The first version of Colorado’s new congressional map using 2020 census data is set to be released as early as Friday, and the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission has plenty of input to consider after holding 36 public hearings around the state. 

Commissioners are expected to discuss major priorities for the map at a meeting Monday at 2 p.m..

And congressional incumbents may be nervous.

Consider, for instance, the congressional map presented by Colorado Common Cause at Saturday’s final hearing in Colorado Springs. Executive Director Amanda Gonzalez said the organization followed the state constitution in not considering incumbents or political parties. The map divides Denver among three congressional districts and Colorado Springs into two districts.

No incumbent appears to be safe in the Common Cause map: 

  • GOP Rep. Ken Buck, of Windsor, ends up in a newly drawn 8th Congressional District in north central Colorado with a slight Democratic lean.
  • Democratic Reps. Joe Neguse, of Lafayette, and Ed Perlmutter, of Arvada, are in a 2nd Congressional District that spans Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson counties and includes part of Adams County.
  • Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette, of Denver, and Jason Crow, of Centennial, would be  in a new 1st Congressional District that includes south Denver and parts of Douglas and Jefferson counties.
  • GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado Springs, would end up living in a newly drawn 4th District and representing the northeastern plains in addition to the northern portion of his city. It’s a markedly different constituency. 
  • U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican, ends up in a competitive 3rd District that includes the Western Slope, as well as western Jefferson, Boulder and Larimer counties.
A proposed Colorado U.S. Congressional map submitted by Colorado Common Cause, on left, and a proposed Congressional map submitted by the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization (CLLARO), on right.

A proposed map from the Colorado Latino Leadership and Research Organization also puts DeGette and Crow in the 1st District and Neguse and Perlmutter together in the 7th. That map extends the 5th District to the west, keeps Weld County (and Buck) in the 4th District, with a 3rd District (where Boebert resides) that sweeps across the southern part of the state. The 2nd District would include western Boulder and Larimer County and span across the Continental Divide to Colorado’s western border.

It’s worth noting that a candidate doesn’t have to live in the congressional district they’re running to represent.

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Key dates: The Congressional Redistricting Commission must decide by Wednesday whether they have any last-minute requirements they want to include in the first staff map using 2020 Census data. 

They’ve been discussing a couple of potential changes for weeks, including a proposal by Commissioners Simon Tafoya, a Democrat, and Bill Leone, a Republican, to create a district spanning much of southern Colorado, and alterations to the 8th, 3rd and 7th congressional districts.  

So far, commissioners have only voted to require that the new map keeps the San Luis Valley whole and within one district.

The new map drawn by staff could be posted online as early as Friday, and commissioners will receive a formal presentation on the proposal at a meeting on Sept. 6, which is Labor Day. 

Staff for the congressional and legislative redistricting commissions will draw three versions of each map (U.S. House, state Senate and state House) over the next month, so expect things to move quickly — and for a lot more groups to start chiming in publicly. 

Click here to view all the maps that have been submitted to the two commissions. 

Some other key dates coming up:

  • Sept. 7-11: Additional public hearings in each congressional district on U.S. House districts
  • Sept. 13: The first staff plans for state House and Senate districts will be released
  • Sept. 14: The Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission discusses the staff plans
  • Sept. 17-18: Virtual public hearings on the legislative maps
  • Oct. 1: Final congressional plan filed with the Colorado Supreme Court
  • Oct. 15: Final legislative district plans filed with the Colorado Supreme Court

Remember, these are deadlines, but both commissions could decide to add more meetings along the way or make changes. More details are available on the commissions’ website.

Better know a district: Boulder County always central to the 2nd Congressional District

Boulder County has been a central feature of the 2nd Congressional District for decades. (Sandra Fish, special to The Colorado Sun)

The 2nd Congressional District is often synonymous with Boulder County. But it wasn’t always that way. 

The district has been around since the 1890s, and at various times was represented by men from Telluride, La Junta, Denver, Sterling and Colorado Springs, among other locales.

Since the 1962 election, with one exception, men from Boulder County have represented the district. (A Wheat Ridge man served a single term in the mid-1960s.)

Colorado’s 1962 congressional map, however, stretched south to include all of Jefferson County and all the  way to the eastern border, surrounding Denver’s 1st Congressional District. Ten years later, urban population growth led to a 2nd District composed mostly of Boulder and Jefferson counties. 

The district continued to evolve over the years, often including mountain counties such as Gilpin and Clear Creek. It crossed the Continental Divide to include Summit, Grand and Eagle counties in 2002. And in 2012 it grew to include Larimer County and the northern part of Jefferson County.

The location of the new 8th Congressional District, expected to be located in the north Front Range, will have a significant impact on the next 2nd District configuration.

Are there entire census blocks of kids with no parents? Nope, it’s a fluke in the data. 

As they combed through the 2020 census data this month, staff at the state demographer’s office found 1,400 Colorado census blocks with children, but no parents, and another 1,900 blocks that reported occupied housing units, but no population. 

Is it time to open an X-File? 

Nope — these are just some weird problems with the census data, said Colorado state demographer and economist Elizabeth Garner

The glitches are caused by a new confidentiality method the U.S. Census Bureau used this year, known as differential privacy. 

The short explanation (because it’s complicated) is the method inserts mathematical “noise,” or errors in the data. The idea is to preserve the overall statistical accuracy of census data, but add small, random errors that make it hard for someone to reverse-engineer the data and cross-reference other data sets to single out individuals. 

But that’s also caused some weird anomalies in the data, with bigger distortions in smaller communities, said Garner, whose office is responsible for turning that data into annual reports and population estimates used by small special districts across the state. That data is also what government agencies use when they apply for federal funding and grants. 

In this decade’s data, one small, Colorado county reported a new group facility housing 256 people. The agency would already know if there was a prison, nursing home or university in an area, Garner said, but it appears that facility doesn’t exist. 

(She didn’t want to name the county because her agency is still fighting the Census Bureau on that point.)

“And the thing is, we have to use it (the data),” said Garner. 

What questions didn’t people answer in the census? 

Nonresponse rates for age, race and ethnicity were considerably higher in the 2020 census than in 2010. (Sandra Fish, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Census-watchers have been looking for signs that the census might have been conducted poorly or failed to reach certain populations. Some new data from the Census Bureau gives us a glimpse into one metric for how accurate the census was this decade: what kind of questions people didn’t answer.

While the overall nonresponse rate, both nationally and in Colorado, was lower in 2020 than it was in 2010, more people declined to respond to questions about age, race and Hispanic origin. Nearly 6% of people nationally and 5.5% in Colorado did not respond to the question about age or year of birth. Nationally, 5.8% of respondents declined to respond to questions about race, compared with nearly 6.5% in Colorado. And 5.4% nationally and 5.5% in Colorado didn’t respond to questions about Hispanic origin.

Headlines: what else you should be reading

>> CITIZEN REDISTRICTING: Some redistricting reform advocates believe states can cut down on gerrymandering by shifting the task to independent commissions. But the model hasn’t always reduced partisanship in the process, according to the Associated Press.  

>> GEOGRAPHERS SHARE TIPS: The American Association of Geographers and the University of Colorado are offering a workshop Friday afternoon aimed at helping people understand and participate in the redistricting process. People may attend online or in-person. 

>> CENSUS ERROR: The resident of a one-person town in Nebraska was surprised to see that census data said the population doubled. It hasn’t, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

>> IN THE SOUTH: Southern counties lose their white majorities, threatening GOP, from Stateline.

>> COMPLAINT: Former state Senate President Stan Matsunaka, a Democrat, filed a complaint last week against two former GOP lawmakers, Greg Brophy and Frank McNulty, for alleged unregistered lobbying activity. Matsunaka also alleged lobbyist Alan Philp hasn’t reported all his activities. Brophy, a former state House and Senate member, McNulty, former House speaker, and Philp are all representatives of a nonprofit, the Colorado Neighborhood Coalition. McNulty said Monday the complaint is an effort by Democrats to “intimidate and harass” people from participating in redistricting and that he hasn’t engaged in lobbying. 

It’s early in the process and the allegations still have to be investigated. At a meeting Thursday, the Congressional Commission voted to post a statement to its website reminding people of the lobbying rules, which say people who are contracted — paid or unpaid — to advocate before the commission, its members or staff must file disclosures. 

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–Fish and Thy

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

Twitter: @thyanhvo

Special to The Colorado Sun
Twitter: @fishnette