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Politics and Government

Remapping 2021 | New draft Colorado legislative maps are coming and congressional commissioners struggle to find consensus

A look at the former Western Slope 4th District and a new congressional proposal is set to be released this week

  • Credibility:
A scene from David Lynch’s mystery/horror/TV series, Twin Peaks.

It’s happening again. But this time, it’s the next drafts of state House and state Senate maps based on 2020 census data, drawn by nonpartisan staff, which will be posted online today. 

While the congressional maps have drawn a lot more national attention, Colorado’s Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission has received a lot more feedback at public hearings.

Relative to the eight-district congressional map, the legislative maps will require more fine-tuning to split the state among 35 state Senate and 65 state House districts. They will determine the partisan balance of Colorado’s General Assembly, which has been controlled by Democrats for the past three years. And while candidates for the U.S. House don’t need to live in the district they represent, candidates for the state legislature do. That means changes to the districts could leave some incumbents and candidates out of the running unless they’re willing to move. 

We don’t know exactly when the maps will be available, but they must be posted to the redistricting commissions’ website Monday ahead of a meeting at noon Tuesday, when the commission will get a formal presentation on the maps.

Keep an eye on coloradosun.com for a story on the latest maps… 

Welcome to Remapping Colorado 2021, a pop-up newsletter bringing you the latest on redistricting. If you’re reading this newsletter but not signed up for it, here’s how to get it sent directly to your email inbox. You can send feedback and tips to thy@coloradosun.com or fill out this form

MORE: The latest maps will incorporate a number of requirements about communities of interest that legislative redistricting commissioners approved last week, including: 

  • Recognizing agricultural and rural communities as a community of interest 
  • Prioritizing “Latino language and cultural interests specific to a region” in every map 
  • Directing staff to prevent the dilution of minority votes in current House Districts 5, 7 and 8, which are in Denver and Aurora and are historically Black communities
  • Recognizing the northeast Colorado counties of Sedgwick, Phillips, Logan, Morgan, Washington and Yuma as a single community of interest 
  • Requiring that the Roaring Fork Valley region, which must include Aspen, Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Silt and Parachute, be kept “as whole as possible”
  • Requiring the San Luis Valley, which includes Saguache, Alamosa, Rio Grande, Conejos, Costilla and Mineral counties, be kept together
  • Requiring the southwest Colorado counties of Archuleta, La Plata and San Juan be kept together with as much of Montezuma County as possible  
  • Requiring that Native American tribes in southwest Colorado be kept whole in Senate and House districts

Those decisions were the “low-hanging fruit” that commissioners felt they had broad consensus on. A number of motions on other potential parameters didn’t move forward, or were put off by commissioners because they are too contentious.

The legislative commission is tracking decisions related to communities of interest in this spreadsheet

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

PUBLIC HEARINGS: The Legislative Redistricting Commission will hold three virtual public hearings Friday and Saturday to get feedback on the new maps. The hearings will be limited to the first 40 speakers who sign up in advance. These are the final public hearings by the legislative commission, although public comments are still being accepted online.

This week’s hearings:

The legislative redistricting commission will meet at noon Sunday to discuss the latest maps and public feedback.

RECAP

Next congressional map, please

Meanwhile, another draft congressional map drawn by nonpartisan staff, based on feedback from commissioners and the public, is set to come out on Wednesday.

Unlike the legislative commission, the congressional commission has adopted only a couple of requirements for the next congressional map after failing to reach the eight-vote threshold to approve specific directions for staff. 

At a nearly four-hour meeting Friday, the congressional redistricting panel took a nonbinding straw poll on a staff map based on 2019 population estimates, the latest staff-drawn map and four other maps requested by commissioners. A couple of maps suggested by Commissioner Martha Coleman, a Fort Collins Democrat, had the most support, while the most recent staff map ranked last. 

The straw poll was aimed at giving staff a sense of which maps have the most traction among commissioners. 

But Commissioner Bill Leone, a Westminster Republican, said the panel has failed to do their job and come up with a process for vetting the maps. 

“The lack of clarity in the process is killing us,” Leone said. 

The congressional commission will meet at 2 p.m. Monday to continue discussing how the map should be drawn.

MORE: Colorado redistricting commissioners mull big changes to latest draft of congressional map

In its final four public hearings last week, the commission heard many complaints about how the latest map proposal would draw rural communities in with urban areas, put northwest counties in the same district as Boulder and Larimer counties, and draw Fort Collins in a district with the Eastern Plains. (Rural areas don’t have enough population to make up their own congressional district, so rural communities must be drawn with urban population centers to make the numbers work).

The panel, however, also received praise from Jefferson County residents who were happy the draft map would keep their county whole, southern Colorado advocates who like the 3rd Congressional District proposed in the draft, and some Western Slope residents who think dividing the region into two districts would improve representation by giving them two members in the U.S. House. 

Meanwhile, two incumbents used the latest plan as fundraising fuel, since it would draw U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat, into the same 2nd District as U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican. However, Boebert announced on Twitter late one night last week that she still plans to run in the 3rd District if the latest draft were adopted, which it appears won’t happen.

MORE: 3 reasons the latest draft of Colorado’s congressional map may spell trouble for Lauren Boebert

BETTER KNOW A DISTRICT

The 4th District was once on the Western Slope

The 4th Congressional District didn’t always include the Eastern Plains.

As Colorado’s population changes, so do congressional districts. And sometimes the changes are dramatic.

Nearly 60 years ago, the 4th Congressional District was still rural, but on the rural Western Slope. Those were the days when the 3rd District was in the southeastern or eastern part of Colorado.

In 1972, the 4th District covered northern Colorado from its borders with Utah and Kansas. In 1982, it shifted to become an Eastern Plains district. 

To achieve population balance, the district included all of Larimer County until 2012.

Q&A

That pesky “equal population” requirement 

QUESTION: There is only a population difference of 1+/- across all eight congressional districts. No way is that correct.

ANSWER: Actually, it is correct. We asked Jeremiah Barry, assistant director of Legislative Legal Services and a member of the nonpartisan redistricting staff.

Amendments Y and Z, the Colorado constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2018, make “equal population” the No. 1 priority for congressional and legislative redistricting maps. Specifically, the amendments require the commissions to “make a good-faith effort to achieve precise mathematical population equality between districts.” 

For congressional districts, districts are supposed to be exactly equal in population, give or take one voter. That originates from a 1962 U.S. Supreme Court “one-person, one-vote” ruling, as well as the outcome of a  2004 case out of Pennsylvania

It should be noted that the population counts for congressional districts include everyone: voters and nonvoters, children and adults, citizens and noncitizens. 

According to Barry, Colorado doesn’t have an explicit legal requirement that congressional districts have equal population down to a single person. But the state has followed that guideline in past redistricting processes, and the Colorado Supreme Court subsequently approved those plans. 

Barry said he’s not clear whether the Colorado Supreme Court has the same expectation under Amendments Y and Z. But staff are following that guideline to avoid any unnecessary legal challenges, he said.

“The commission would run some risk if they didn’t do it,” Barry said, “and even if they came up with some justification for the variance, someone at the (state) Supreme Court may object to the plan on that basis.” 

For state legislative districts, states may set their own parameters for how much a district may deviate from the population target. Amendment Z requires that state House and Senate districts have no more than a 5% deviation between the most populous and least populous district in each map.

The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a state-by-state look at overall standards

In Colorado, the target population, based on 2020 census data, for state House districts is 88,826, while it’s 164,963 for state Senate districts. The target is 721,714 for the U.S. House districts.

HEADLINES: What else you should be reading

3RD DISTRICT DISCONTENT: Garfield County Commissioners oppose the proposed split of their county between the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts, The Glenwood Springs Post Independent reports. The commissioners join several other Western Slope governing bodies in opposing a north-south split of the Western Slope proposed by the latest congressional draft map. Meanwhile,The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel editorial board offered up its own map suggestion on Sunday, which would keep the Western Slope whole.

COURT CASES: Redistricting battles are already headed to the courts in some states, Stateline reports. Remember, the Colorado Supreme Court must approve maps submitted by the congressional and legislative commissions, and may kick them back for more work.

MORE ON CONGRESSIONAL: Colorado Newsline sums up last Friday’s congressional redistricting commission meeting.


Remember, you can always send us your questions about the redistricting process. Meanwhile, keep in mind that this Rolling Stones song applies to redistricting too.

—Thy and Fish