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Remapping 2021 | One week to go before the big deadline for Colorado’s legislative redistricting commission

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With a new congressional map before the Colorado Supreme Court, the spotlight turns to the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission. 

Final drafts of the state House and state Senate maps drawn by nonpartisan staff are to be released Tuesday, and legislative commissioners have set a new Oct. 12 deadline to make their final decisions on where districts should be, giving themselves an extra day.

That means this week will be packed with meetings, meetings and more meetings.  

A number of legislative commissioners pointed to the congressional commission’s contentious, more than six-hour meeting last week as an example of why commissioners need to start making final motions soon to avoid 11th hour conflicts.

“It makes me really nervous to wait until Oct. 11 to start voting,” Commissioner Aislinn Kottwitz, a Republican from Windsor, said last week, noting that the panel must approve not just one but two maps.  

“I agree that we don’t want the nightmare … that we saw a couple of days ago,” said Commissioner Gary Horvath, a Democrat from Broomfield.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Nonpartisan staff received an extension from the commission to release the final staff-drawn legislative map drafts on Tuesday instead of Oct 3. as originally planned.

The extension, however, caused some concern from commissioners about the 72-hour public notice required before they can vote on adopting a final plan. 

Commissioners originally set a deadline to approve final legislative maps by Oct. 11. Since the panel needs to give three days advance notice before any vote, commissioners would need to decide which maps they want to put on the table for a final vote by Oct. 9. Many worried they wouldn’t have enough time to narrow it down. 

“Do we need to think about asking for an extension?” asked Commissioner John Buckley, a Republican from Colorado Springs, referring to the state Supreme Court. “If we had 48 to 72 hours (more), I think we solve all these problems.”

“This is 72 hours for the sake of 10 years. I think that’s a sell we can make,” said unaffiliated Commissioner Samuel Greenidge, of Longmont. 

But staff director Jessika Shipley was quick to shoot down the idea, suggesting the commission push back its voting deadline by a day or two instead of going to the court for more time. 

“They’ve already given us more time. They were pretty clear about where their deadlines were, according to the Constitution,” Shipley said. “And that, to me, telegraphs their reluctance to provide more time and extend their deadline.” 

The commission opted to add some meetings to its calendar and pushed back its final voting deadline by a day, to Oct. 12. That’s a self-imposed deadline, and one commissioners generally need to stick to. Nonpartisan staff and the commission’s lawyers need a few days to double-check and finalize the maps and prepare reports to submit to the court.

The actual constitutional deadline is Oct. 15. That means commissioners’ Oct. 12 meeting doesn’t have to end at midnight, but the panel appears pretty motivated to avoid a long, drawn-out meeting. 

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Starting on Tuesday, the legislative commission will be meeting every day, except for Sunday, until their self-imposed Oct. 12 deadline. Here’s the lineup: 

  • 5 p.m. Tuesday 
  • 5 p.m. Wednesday to review the latest staff-drawn maps
  • 6 p.m. Thursday 
  • 1 p.m. Friday
  • 9 a.m. Saturday
  • 6 p.m. Oct. 11
  • 6 p.m. Oct. 12

Commissioners have asked staff to draw several draft maps, and some commissioners are working in groups to fine-tune their own proposals. This week we’ll finally see more discussion of those proposals, and with the release of a final staff-drawn map, get a sense of which maps have the most traction among the 12-member commission. 

Legal challenges to congressional map due Friday

Colorado’s new congressional map, pending approval from the state Supreme Court.

The final congressional map approved by the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission was submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court on Friday afternoon. This week, we’re waiting to see what kind of legal challenges the map receives. 

One thing that’s for sure, as we reported Friday, is that there will be challenges. Some groups huddled this weekend to decide whether they’ll file a challenge and join groups like the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization in asking the Supreme Court to force commissioners to make changes.

Oct. 8 is the deadline for parties to file their briefs. Feel free to send us any questions you have about the court process. 

By the way, if you’re one of the people still submitting comments online on the congressional map, keep in mind that the commission has already submitted its final map and can’t make changes. 

The map could still change if the Supreme Court sends it back to the commission with specific instructions for how the districts must be redrawn. The commission and their staff may read the new comments, but at this point, barring Supreme Court action, the comments you submit online won’t have an impact. 

STORY: 8 takeaways from Colorado’s new congressional map

If computers instead of people drew the maps

Imagine creating 200,000 possible maps of Colorado’s congressional districts.

That’s what researchers at University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado College did, using computers of course. The idea was to get a sense of where the state’s eight districts would be if they were generated at random by using only the parameters of population, geographic boundaries and compactness.

It’s called “ensemble analysis” and can give an idea of how well the partisan breakdown in maps selected by the state’s independent redistricting commissions compare with maps created by computers. The answer so far is: pretty well.

That’s according to Jeanne Clelland, a math professor at CU Boulder, and Beth Malmskog, who teaches math and computer science at Colorado College. On average, their analysis typically ended up creating maps with four Democratic seats, three Republican seats and one swing seat. That’s the same as the congressional map submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court.

A histogram shows the frequency of toss-up districts generated by researchers at University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado College, with the black center line indicating the current congressional proposal. (Jeanne Clelland and Beth Malmskog, special to The Colorado Sun)

That’s not to say we should expect computers to draw maps in the future. Their research focuses on geographic boundaries, population and compactness, but not on important factors like the racial and ethnic makeup of districts or communities that share common interests, such as business or economic goals.

“Mapping is sort of a deeply human thing, like drawing,” Malmskog said. “These district boundaries really require the complexity and the nuance of a human mind.”

Expecting computers to take over such a task would not only remove the human touch, but would require virtually infinite iteration.

“It would take more than the age of the universe to search and find the best,” Clelland said. “So that’s not really a practical thing to do.”

The research team is consulting for the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission. Check out their findings at their website.

Better know a district: Colorado congressional districts across six decades

Here’s a look at how Colorado’s congressional map has changed from 1962 to the newest map adopted by the first Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission (Sandra Fish, for The Colorado Sun)

In 2022, Colorado will have twice as many congressional districts as it had in 1962, when there were four districts. The state had five districts in 1972, six in 1982 and seven in 2002.

This week’s graphic offers a look at how the districts have changed (thanks to shape files from UCLA’s political science team) and how the map would change under a plan to be considered by the Colorado Supreme Court. The 1st Congressional District, for instance, remains ensconced in the city of Denver.

But many of the recent additions — the 6th, 7th and now 8th districts — are also centered in the metro area, where most of the state’s population growth has been concentrated.

HEADLINES: What else you should be reading

>> REDISTRICTING DONE: Maine, Nebraska and Oregon completed new congressional and state legislative maps last week, according to Ballotpedia.

>> “SOME OTHER RACE”: One in seven people identified as “some other race” in the 2020 Census. That obscures a large number of Latinos and other minorities, such as people from Middle Eastern or North African descent, who don’t identify with race and ethnicity categories on census forms. NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang looks at how the data has implications for government funding and racial equity for the next decade. 


Thanks for reading! It’s going to be another busy week. The Colorado Sun will be here to cover the legal battles over the redistricting maps and other new developments until the maps are final-final, so stay tuned. 

If you’ve found our coverage in this free newsletter helpful, please consider becoming a member of The Colorado Sun. Reporting on this once-a-decade redistricting is an important public service that has required a lot of time and dedication. We couldn’t do it without reader support.

And don’t forget to send us your redistricting questions

—Thy and Fish


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