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Members of the Colorado Senate meet on Monday, June 7, 2021 during the final days of the 2021 legislative session. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Partisan control of the Colorado Senate would depend on the outcome of races in eight toss-up districts under the latest draft legislative maps released Thursday, though Democrats would have a clear advantage in the House.

Twelve districts under the new Senate draft map would be considered safe for Democrats, while five would lean in the party’s favor. Nine districts would be considered safe for Republicans, with an additional district leaning toward the GOP. 

Whichever party controls 18 seats controls the 35-member chamber, and the balance of power would be determined under the latest draft map by which party wins the toss-up districts.

Democrats currently have a 20-15 advantage in the Senate.

The legislative commission has a policy defining political competitiveness based on an average of election results from eight statewide races between 2016 and 2020. The metric looks at the difference between the percentage of votes cast for a Republican candidate versus the percentage of votes cast for a Democratic candidate.

Nonpartisan staff consider a district competitive if neither party has an advantage of more than 8.5 percentage points. The Colorado Sun considers a district competitive, but leaning in favor of a political party if it has an advantage of at least 5 percentage points.

Under the draft House map, 34 seats would be considered safely Democratic, giving the party an easy majority in the 65-member chamber. 

The new maps could ultimately determine which party controls the state legislature, which has been in Democrats’ hands for the past three years. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who is up for reelection next year, will need his party to continue to control both chambers of the legislature to advance his agenda. 

The legislative redistricting commission must submit its maps to the Colorado Supreme Court on Oct. 15. At least eight of the 12 commissioners, including at least two of the panel’s four unaffiliated members, must agree on a proposal for it to be sent to the court. 

If commissioners can’t reach an agreement on a proposal by Oct. 11, the next map issued by staff — set for release Oct. 3 — will be sent to the court. That means the next two weeks will be crucial for the commission as it works to find consensus. 

The fast-approaching deadlines mean the maps released Thursday, and how they are changed, are critical starting points for the final stretch.

Click here to view the most recent legislative map drafts and related reports. 

At least six Senate incumbents would be drawn into the same district

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 or challenge a colleague, potentially in a primary. 

The latest draft Senate map would draw at least six incumbents into the same district.

Democratic Sens. Brittany Pettersen, of Lakewood, and Jessie Danielson, of Wheat Ridge, would both be in Senate District 20. Both are up for reelection next year. The two could opt to run against each other in the Democratic primary. 

Senate District 2 would be home to Republican Sens. Dennis Hisey, of Fountain, and Bob Gardner, of Colorado Springs. Gardner was reelected to a second four-year term in 2020, while Hisey is up for reelection next year.

State Sens. Pete Lee, Dennis Hisey and Paul Lundeen. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Because state law requires incumbents be able to serve their entire term, Hisey would essentially be knocked out of a seat. He would have to move into another district to run for reelection, if the map doesn’t change. Hisey cannot challenge Gardner in a primary election next year.

A similar situation would play out in Senate District 5, which would be home to both Republican Sens. Don Coram, of Montrose, and Bob Rankin, of Carbondale. Rankin was elected to a four-year term last year while Coram is up for reelection in 2022.

At least three districts — 3, 7 and 22 — would not have an incumbent under the new map. All three are considered safe Republican districts.

The eight toss-up districts that would decide control of the Senate would include Senate District 2, which is made up of part of Colorado Springs, as well as Senate District 5, which incorporates Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Montrose and Gunnison.

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Other toss-up districts would include Senate District 6, which spans the San Luis Valley and counties in Colorado’s southwest corner. Senate District 21, which runs through eastern Arapahoe and Adams counties and into Brighton and the north Denver metro area, would also be a toss-up.

Because senators are elected to four-year terms, the true effect on partisan control of the Senate under the new map won’t be borne out until after the 2024 election.

At least 20 House incumbents end up in the same 10 districts

At least 10 of the 65 state House districts would be home to two incumbents.

Five districts would be home to two Republican incumbents, while three districts would be home to two Democrats.

Since House members run for reelection every two years, incumbents could face each other in a primary or general election under the new map. Here’s a list of districts that would be home to two incumbents under the latest draft map:

  • Democratic Rep. Tracey Bernett, of Longmont, would live in House District 12 with  Republican Rep. Dan Woog, of Erie. Both are in their first terms. The new district would heavily favor Democrats.
  • Republican Rep. Colin Larson, of Ken Caryl, and Democratic Rep. Lisa Cutter, of Littleton, would both live in District 22. Larson is considering running for Congress, however. The district would be competitive, with a 4.5 percentage point GOP advantage.
  • Republican first-year Reps. Ron Hanks, of Canon City, and Stephanie Luck, of Penrose, would both live in District 60.
  • Republican Reps. Dave Williams and Andres Pico, both of Colorado Springs, would both live in District 15. Pico is in his first term.
  • Republican Reps. Kim Ransom and Marc Baisley, both of Littleton, would both live in District 39. Ransom is term-limited in 2022.
  • Republican Reps. Tonya Van Beber, of Eaton, and Richard Holtorf, of Akron, would both live in District 65. Van Beber is in her first term.
  • Republican Reps. Rod Pelton, of Cheyenne Wells, and Rod Bockenfeld, of Watkins, would both live in District 30
  • Democratic Reps. Brianne Titone, of Arvada, and Monica Duran, of Wheat Ridge, would be placed in District 24, which has an 8.6 percentage point Democratic advantage.
  • Democratic Reps. Judy Amabile, of Boulder, and Karen McCormick, of Longmont, would  both live in District 13. Both are in their first terms.
  • Democratic Reps. Kyle Mullica, of Northglenn, and Yadira Carveo, of Thornton, would both live in District 34. Caraveo is running for Congress. The district has a 7.8 percentage point Democratic advantage.
Colorado state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, left, talks to Rep. Brianna Titone on the opening day of the legislative session Jan. 4, 2019, in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The legislative redistricting commission has heard from Hispanic advocacy groups that their community — which represents about a quarter of the state’s population — needs more representation at the Capitol. 

Sixteen of the proposed House seats would be at least 30% or more Hispanic, and 15 of those would be heavily Democratic, with the 16th leaning to Democrats. At least seven Senate seats would be at least 30% or more Hispanic.

Another eight House districts would be 11.9% to 20.5% Black, all heavily Democratic districts. Only three Senate districts would fall into that category.

What’s next

People may still share feedback about the proposed legislative map by submitting comments online.

The Legislative Commission will meet to review the new maps at 1 p.m. Friday, with another meeting at 1 p.m. Sunday. 

If necessary, a third set of legislative maps will be released Oct. 3.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 27, 2021 to update the correct number of votes from unaffiliated commissioners needed to send a final map to the Supreme Court.

Sandra Fish

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @fishnette

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...