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Members of the public make remarks during a joint hearing of Colorado's redistricting commissions on Tuesday, August 24, 2021, at the Eagle Pointe Recreation Center in Commerce City. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

Eight of the 12 members of Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission must agree on a map by the end of Tuesday to prevent a staff-drawn proposal from being sent to the state Supreme Court for final approval.

There are about 30 different maps commissioners can consider at a 2 p.m. meeting Monday or another meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The maps fall into three categories:

  • Three staff-drawn maps based on 2020 census data, along with a preliminary map drafted by staff in June based on 2019 population estimates
  • Commissioner recommendations for new maps or amendments to existing maps. There are eight maps requested by commissioners, along with three amendments to the Sept. 15 staff plan, eight amendments to the Sept. 23 staff plan and one map from the public amended by a commissioner.
  • Five maps submitted by the public and presented to the full commission at the recommendation of the map analytics subcommittee

Interactive versions of the maps and supporting materials are on the commission website.

At a six-hour meeting Saturday, commissioners reviewed several amendments to the latest draft plan drawn by staff that was revealed Thursday. 

The commission has yet to consider a motion to adopt any of the maps.

MORE: The latest draft of Colorado’s congressional map could become the final version. Here’s where the districts would be.

Saturday’s congressional redistricting commission meeting again revealed sharp divisions among commissioners.

The commission spent several hours trying to craft maps together on their Zoom call. Not everyone was on board with the workshop approach.

“I think this is disrespectful of the commission’s time,” Republican Commissioner Bill Leone, of Westminster, said.

“This is an opportunity for us to do collaborative work together,” replied Commission Chairwoman Carly Hare, an unaffiliated voter from Frederick.

As they reviewed proposals, divisions surfaced over splitting counties such as Routt, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld into different districts.

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Legislative Redistricting Commission closer to agreement

The latest draft state House and Senate maps released last week appear to each have the support of at least eight members of the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commision. 

While commissioners have discussed changes they’d like to see to the maps, an informal straw poll last week indicated a supermajority of commissioners would, if the latest drafts were the final maps for consideration, vote for the proposals. 

Commissioners Hunter Barnett, Aislinn Kottwitz and Constance Hass, all Republicans, each said they would need to see significant changes before supporting the latest state House map. Kottwitz said she’s an “emphatic no” on the House map. 

And Democratic Commissioners Heather Barry, Robin Schepper and Blanca Uzeta O’Leary, plus unaffiliated Commissioner Amber McReynolds, said they’d like to see changes to the state Senate map before they could support it. 

This stage of the map-drawing process is tedious and time-consuming. While the legislative commissioners have found a lot more to agree on than their congressional counterparts, now legislative commissioners are doing the painstaking work of reconfiguring district lines in specific neighborhoods and regions to try to resolve their own issues with the maps while keeping the parts their colleagues support. 

Most commissioners have also asked nonpartisan staff to draw draft maps based on changes they’d like to see. You can see those proposals, posted as they are completed, by clicking here and scrolling down to view “state legislative plans.”

The next draft of the House and Senate maps will be released Oct. 3. Commissioners must approve final maps by Oct. 11.

MORE: Control of the Colorado Senate would come down to a handful of competitive districts under latest draft maps

And what about that Voting Rights Act?

A graphic, created by nonpartisan redistricting staff, shows the criteria for drawing new districts. Complying with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a top priority.

Complying with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the second highest constitutional priority for the congressional and legislative redistricting commissions, but we haven’t heard either panel discussing the parameter much at their public meetings. 

That’s because nearly all those Voting Rights Act discussions are in executive session, closed-door meetings where commissioners can, among the limited topics, receive advice from their attorneys or discuss potential litigation. 

That means the public is getting a limited glimpse of how commissioners on both panels are thinking about their obligations to preserving the voting rights of language and racial minority groups under the federal law and state constitution. And whether the maps comply with those requirements could be the subject of future lawsuits challenging the plans. 

“There should be great scrutiny on whether the map meets all the requirements of the VRA and the spirit behind it as well,” said Scott Martinez, a Democratic attorney who has worked on redistricting in the past. He’s also among the observers and groups watching carefully for how the final maps will handle minority groups. 

Commissioners on both redistricting commissions have been paying attention and asking a lot of questions about VRA requirements of groups like the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization and Colorado Black Leadership Organization, which have been pushing for changes in the maps that they say would amplify voting strength for Hispanic, Black and other communities of color. (The groups also recently submitted a joint proposal for legislative maps.) 

At least two other groups, the Colorado League of United Latin American Citizens and national nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, have sent letters arguing the commissions and their nonpartisan staff have “misinterpreted, in fact, disregarded” requirements under the state constitution that make Colorado’s protections for minority voters greater than federal law. 

We may get more information about what parts of Colorado may require special attention to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act, through an analysis conducted by Dr. Lisa Handley, an expert hired by the legislative commission. Handley did a racial bloc voting analysis, which looks at whether a minority group in a region votes cohesively and if white voters in that area vote as a bloc against minority-preferred candidates.  

A discussion of Handley’s initial findings Friday was held entirely in an executive session, and commissioners will meet again Monday and Wednesday evenings to hear more about the report, which was delivered in full Sunday afternoon. 

It’s not clear if any portion of the report will be made public. Jessika Shipley, staff director for the commission, said that’s up to the legislative commission’s outside attorneys. 

Amanda Gonzalez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, said the public should be given more information about how Handley is conducting the analysis, including what data sets she will use so that groups like Common Cause can analyze it themselves. 

“There may be questions around legal implications that commissioners need to ask in executive session, but typically we would expect a presentation open to the public about the analysis, and that the public would be able to read the report and independently analyze the data,” said Gonzalez, who is lobbying the commissions. 

Better Know a District: South suburban Denver got the 6th District in 1982

The 6th Congressional District originated in 1982 as a result of population growth in suburban Denver. (Sandra Fish, special to The Colorado Sun.)

In 1982, Colorado got a sixth congressional district as a result of population growth, much of it in the Denver metro area. The district originally wrapped around the southern part of Denver, including parts of Jefferson, Arapahoe and sometimes other counties. It was a conservative Republican district.

Then, 10 years ago, the district shifted to the east side of Denver, including Aurora, creating a more competitive district. After fighting back three significant Democratic challenges, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, who was first elected to the seat in 2008, lost his 2018 reelection contest to Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Crow.

HEADLINES:What else you should be reading

>> URBAN-RURAL DIVIDE: The new 8th Congressional District, which will likely be located in the north Denver metro area, could reflect the state’s urban-rural divide, The Denver Post’s John Aguilar reports.

>> RETHINKING MINORITY DISTRICTS: Advocacy groups looking to increase representation for Black, Hispanic and other minority groups are changing their strategy. In states such as Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, past maps have drawn heavy concentrations of Black voters into a single district, while Republicans dominate every surrounding white-majority seat. Now advocates are instead looking to draw districts that would spread that minority influence around, Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman writes for The Atlantic.

>> SLICING UP LIBERAL CITIES: It’s become a go-to redistricting strategy to dilute Democratic influence, Stateline reports.

>> PRISON GERRYMANDERING: Colorado’s congressional commission voted not to implement a state law requiring prisoners be counted at their home address rather than the place of their incarceration, which advocates argue would reverse a problem of large prison populations inflating the political representation of rural communities. NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang looks at the other states tackling “prison gerrymandering” and what it could mean for this decade’s redistricting. 

>> ANYONE CAN DRAW A MAP: Bloomberg’s Citylab looks at the impact (or lack thereof ) of open source software that allows virtually anyone with a steady internet connection to draw a redistricting map. 

>> MAP RATING: The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gives the latest Colorado congressional map draft an “A” for partisan fairness, and a “C” for competitiveness and geographic features. That’s the same rating the previous two draft maps received. Delve deeper into the analysis and ratings for other redistricting maps nationwide. 

>> COLORADO COMMISSION GETS ATTENTION: The Takeaway, a nationally syndicated public radio show, featured Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission last week.

Thanks for reading!

Let’s not forget how hard everyone is working through birthdays, late-night meetings and overlapping deadlines toward the redistricting finish line. 

Redistricting staff have been up late drawing maps and monitoring hours-long meetings. During a virtual meeting last week, staffer Julia Jackson interrupted reading her kid a bedtime story to answer a commissioner’s question. Congressional commissioner Carly Hare juggled her toddler’s frustrations with chairing the commission, and commissioner Bill Leone called in from a hospital bed after a procedure. 

It’s a big week, so keep your eye on and follow Thy and Fish on Twitter. 

Let us know if you have questions.

—Fish and Thy

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

Twitter: @thyanhvo

Special to The Colorado Sun
Twitter: @fishnette