The 12 members of Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission agreed on an overhaul of the state’s U.S. House districts late Tuesday in a vote taken minutes before a self-imposed deadline.
The map would create 3 safe seats for Democrats, 3 safe seats for Republicans and 2 seats that could go either way.
The proposal was approved by an 11-1 vote just before midnight after seven rounds of voting and hours of contentious debate. The map will be sent to the Colorado Supreme Court by Friday. The court could adopt the plan by Nov. 1 or send it back to the commission for revisions. Legal challenges are expected.
The map being sent to the court is an amended version of a staff plan released last week. It received votes from three Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated commissioners on the 12-member panel.
Democratic Commissioner Simon Tafoya, a Denver Democrat, was the lone vote against sending the proposal to the Supreme Court.
Eight votes, including from two unaffiliated commissioners, were required for the map to be approved.
“Despite the proverbial bumps in the road … together we have changed the course of congressional redistricting in Colorado, and provide an example for the rest of the country,” said a tearful Commissioner Lori Schell, an unaffiliated voter from Durango.
The map, should it be approved by the court, will be used in the 2022 congressional elections in Colorado, the outcomes of which could determine partisan control of the U.S. House. Democrats currently control four of Colorado’s seven congressional seats.
The most competitive district under the new map would be the new, heavily Hispanic 8th District based in the north Denver metro area and stretching into Greeley. Democrats would have a 1.3 percentage point advantage in the district, based on the results of eight statewide races between 2016 and 2020.
Colorado’s seven incumbent U.S. House members would still live in their respective districts under the proposal, though in some instances those districts are vastly different.
Meanwhile, some announced and potential 2022 congressional candidates in Colorado will find their homes drawn into the districts they were planning to run to represent, while others won’t.
Here’s a look at the eight districts in the new map:
- The 1st District would continue to be Denver-centric and a safe Democratic district for Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette.
- The 2nd District would cover the northwest Colorado counties of Routt, Jackson, Larimer, Grand, Clear Creek, Gilpin, Jackson and Summit, and also include most of Boulder and Eagle counties. It would also include parts of Weld County and more than 1,800 people from Jefferson County. It would be a safe Democratic district for incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat.
- The 3rd District would include most of the Western Slope and southern Colorado, including Pueblo. U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Garfield County Republican who represents the district, would have a solid 9.3 percentage point advantage, per historic results. Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan of Vail, who is running to unseat Boebert, would live in the 2nd District.
- The 4th District would be compromised of Douglas County, including Castle Rock, as well as Loveland and other parts of Larimer County. The Eastern Plains, including Weld County and eastern Adams and Arapahoe counties, would also be in the district, which would remain a safe district for Republican Rep. Ken Buck, of Windsor.
- The 5th District would be centered in Colorado Springs, including military bases in El Paso County, and would remain a safe Republican seat for U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.
- The 6th District would remain anchored in Aurora and include much of Arapahoe County, as well as parts of Adams, Jefferson and Douglas counties. It would remain a safe Democratic district for U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, of Centennial.
- The 7th District would be a reconfigured, competitive district including much of Jefferson County but also Lake, Park, Teller, Chaffee, Custer and Fremont counties in the central mountains. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, of Arvada, currently represents the district. Potential Republican challenger, state Rep. Colin Larson, of Ken Caryl, would be just across the border in the 6th District, though members of Congress don’t have to live in the district they represent.
- The new 8th District would include the north Denver suburbs of Thornton, Commerce City, Brighton and Northglenn, as well as most of Westminster and all of Greeley. Democratic state Rep. Yadira Caraveo, of Thornton, has already announced her bid for the seat, but the competitive nature of the seat is sure to entice Republican challengers.
The decision was made after tense discussion
It wasn’t always clear Tuesday night that the commission, formed by voters in 2018 through the passage of Amendments Y and Z, would be able to reach agreement on a map to send to the Supreme Court.
Tuesday’s meeting started out light as commissioners reflected on their work over the last several months, which included 36 public hearings held around the state, weekend work sessions and late-night meetings that could be tense.
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Commissioners initially spent a good deal of time Tuesday praising each other’s work and thanking nonpartisan staff for their help. Small talk was plentiful and plans were even being floated for a dinner party.
“I feel like I’m part of that huge group of people that gave us an eighth district, and I love that I am part of the process for drawing that eighth district,” said unaffiliated Commissioner Jolie Brawner of Denver, who moved to Colorado from Florida ten years ago.
But decorum devolved as the meeting wore on and by 10 p.m. however, there appeared to be no love lost between commissioners. At points, commissioners squabbled, talked over each other and lobbed accusations.
“Let’s keep this civil,” Commissioner Moussa Diawara, an unaffiliated voter from Colorado Springs, pleaded at one point.
“The state is pulling for you all,” said Jerome DeHerrera, a nonpartisan staffer who was leading the meeting.
But commissioners somehow steered the conversation back on track and were able to find a proposal they could agree on.
“I see all of our conversations reflected in this map,” Brawner said. “I also see the people of Colorado reflected in this map, through their public comments, through their maps, through their testimony at hearings.”
She marveled that the commission was able to secure 11 votes for a map. “That’s pretty amazing,” Brawner said.
The idea behind the ballot measures forming the congressional redistricting commission and its legislative counterpart was to remove some of the partisan, highly charged politics that historically dominated Colorado’s redistricting process.
Commissioner Bill Leone, a Republican from Westminster, said the debate Tuesday night was clear evidence that the new redistricting process works and isn’t overly partisan.
“At one point,” he said, “we had two Democrats and two Republicans supporting an alternative map. And that doesn’t happen in a partisan process.”
It was also a chaotic year to be launching the new process, with the 2020 U.S. Census data used for drawing maps arriving nearly five months late and coronavirus stymieing the ability of staff to find meeting venues.
“We have a process that we all should feel proud of, and can feel that it is responsive to what Colorado voters wanted when they passed Amendments Y and Z,” said Commissioner JulieMarie Shepherd Macklin, a Republican from Aurora.
Jessika Shipley, staff director to the commission, thanked commissioners for their professionalism and dedication.
“We have all just really dedicated everything we’ve had for the last year to this particular process,” said Shipley. “This was so much better … I feel like the people of the state really got a chance to be heard and to feel like they matter.”
What’s next for congressional redistricting
The agreed upon map and supporting documentation must be submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court by Friday. Once the court receives the map, outside parties have seven days, or until noon on Oct. 8 at the latest, to file any objections or input on the map with the court.
The court will then hold oral arguments at 1 p.m. on Oct. 12.
The court set a deadline of Nov. 1 to rule on whether to sign off on the plan, though it could order the commission to reconvene to make changes if it finds the panel “abused its discretion in applying or failing to apply” criteria outlined in the state constitution. The court may consider maps submitted by others in deciding whether the proposed districts meet criteria, which includes, in order of importance:
- Equal population
- Be contiguous
- Compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965
- Keep geographic communities such as cities and counties, as well as communities of interest, whole
- Be as compact as possible
- Be competitive
If the court sends the map back to the commission, the panel has 12 days to hold a public hearing and draft and approve a map that meets the court’s directions.
If the commission fails to do that, nonpartisan staff will have three more days to create and submit a map to the court.
The legislative redistricting commission is still in the process of drafting maps, the next of which, drawn by nonpartisan staff, is set to be released on Sunday.
The 12-member legislative commission must submit its new state House and Senate maps to the Supreme Court by Oct. 15.