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An overhead view of the Colorado Senate chambers. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Colorado’s Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission adopted a new state Senate map Tuesday night after the panel pushed past an impasse by making last-minute changes to district boundaries ahead of a self-imposed midnight deadline.

The 12-member commission voted unanimously to advance the proposal to the Colorado Supreme Court for final review. The map would give Democrats a solid chance of maintaining their majority in the 35-member chamber.

Fifteen districts would be considered safe for Democrats and three would lean in the party’s favor, according to an analysis by nonpartisan staff. Nine districts would be considered safe for Republicans and eight would be competitive. 

The vote Tuesday comes after the commission Monday night passed a new state House map, which also would appear to keep Democrats in power, with little controversy. 

Democrats currently have a 20-15 majority in the Senate and a 41-24 majority in the House. 

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.

The vote Tuesday marks the beginning of the end of Colorado’s once-a-decade redistricting process conducted for the first time through independent commissions formed under the changes made through the passage of Amendments Y and Z.

“This notion of the General Assembly as Colorado in miniature has really guided a lot of my decisions,” said Commissioner Samuel Greenidge, an unaffiliated voter from Longmont and the youngest member of the panel at 25 years old. “This was a strange lottery for me, I was bingo ball number 37, and I was so lucky and so fortunate to have been a part of this process.”

The experiment was at times chaotic, in part because the release of detailed 2020 U.S. census data needed to draw maps was delayed by more than four months, forcing both the legislative and congressional redistricting commissions to compress their timeline for completing their work. 

“This was our first time doing this too,” said Jeremiah Barry, a legislative attorney who advised the commission. “We were very impressed with how dedicated all of you were…we grossly underestimated the amount of work you guys would have to do, and consequently the amount of work we would have to do.”

Despite the time crunch, commissioners attended — virtually or in-person — more than 30 public hearings around the state. 

“I’m also grateful to the involvement and time invested by the citizens and interest groups…we all owe them utmost gratitude,” said Republican Commissioner Aislinn Kottwitz of Windsor.

Nonpartisan staff could still make some minor changes to the final maps before submitting it to the Colorado Supreme Court by Friday. The court has until Nov. 15 to approve the map or send it back to the commission for revisions. Legal challenges are likely.

Real-time changes to district boundaries lead to accord

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting to decide on a final Senate map, commissioners were deadlocked, with three Democratic and two unaffiliated commissioners in opposition to the four maps under consideration.

The dissenting commissioners were focused on Senate districts in Adams County, arguing for changes they said would address potential dilution of minority votes in the fast-growing suburbs north of Denver. But an initial attempt to amend the districts failed. 

Click here to view an interactive, searchable map.

The panel went back-and-forth for nearly two hours, with some raising the prospect of a deadlock that would force a staff-drawn map released earlier this month to be forwarded to the state Supreme Court. 

“If no one of the five of you is going to vote for any of these maps, because you just prefer staff plan three to move forward, let’s end the meeting,” said Commissioner Kevin Fletcher, an unaffiliated voter from Golden. 

But after taking a break from their heated debate, the commission decided to make real-time changes, with the help of a nonpartisan staffer, to district boundaries to achieve an accord. 

The final Senate map was drawn by a coalition of commissioners, including Republicans Hunter Barnett, Aislinn Kottwitz and Constance Hass; Democrat Gary Horvath and unaffiliated voters Kevin Fletcher and Samuel Greenidge.

Eight Senate incumbents paired in four districts

At least eight Senate incumbents would live in the same district as another incumbent under the proposal adopted Tuesday night. 

The changes could leave the affected incumbents out of a job unless they’re willing to move into a new district or challenge a colleague, potentially in a primary. State lawmakers must live in the district they represent.

Democratic Sens. Brittany Pettersen, of Lakewood, and Jessie Danielson, of Wheat Ridge, would both be in Senate District 22 under the new proposal. Both are up for reelection next year.

The two, who are close friends, could opt to run against each other in the Democratic primary. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Gardner, right, R-Colorado Springs, speaks during the hearing on a bill that would allow deadly force against an intruder at a business before the House Judiciary Committee at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. The committee’s vice chairman Rep. Mark Barker, R-Colorado Springs, is at left. The proposed bill would allow Colorado business owners and employees the right to use deadly force against suspected intruders. The bill dubbed “Make My Day Better” expands legal protections to businesses like what Colorado homeowners have under a law nicknamed “Make My Day.” (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Senate District 12 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.

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.

Republican Sens. Don Coram, of Montrose, and Bob Rankin, of Carbondale, both end up in District 5. Coram is up for reelection next year, but because Rankin’s term doesn’t end until 2024, he will continue to hold the seat.

Republican Sens. John Cooke, of Greeley, and Kevin Priola, of Henderson, would both live in Senate District 13 under the new map. Cooke, however, is term limited and can’t run for reelection next year, while Priola’s term doesn’t end until 2025.

What’s next 

Nonpartisan staff will take the next few days to prepare both the state Senate and House maps, accompanying reports and a legal memo to submit to the Supreme Court by Oct. 15. 

Parties can file legal challenges or briefs on the final state House and Senate maps by Oct. 22, ahead of a 1 p.m. Oct. 25 oral arguments hearing. The court must issue an opinion by Nov. 15. 

Final legislative maps must be approved by the court by Dec. 29.

Thy Vo is a freelance journalist and former Colorado Sun staff member. Twitter: @thyanhvo

Sandra Fish has covered government and politics in Iowa, Florida, New Mexico and Colorado. She was a full-time journalism instructor at the University of Colorado for eight years, and her work as appeared on CPR, KUNC, The Washington Post, Roll...