6 Updates on Colorado’s New Independent Redistricting Commission
At long last, independent redistricting is coming to Colorado. For years, politicians and parties have dictated the terms of redistricting — determining who votes where, while cushioning their districts with favorable voters and carving out the unfavorable. It’s a wicked form of partisanship that Colorado will finally eliminate this year.
Here is a run-down of the action regarding Colorado’s first independent redistricting commission:
- Colorado is paving the way for redistricting reform
As of June 2020, Colorado is one of only four states to have independent redistricting commissions for state legislative and congressional redistricting. Outside of Colorado, some states are adopting slightly more democratic processes such as political appointee commissions or advisory commissions. However, the majority of states continue to endow state legislators with the power to create districts that distribute partisan convenience.
Colorado’s adoption of independent redistricting commissions is a notable step for anti-gerrymandering reform and is leading the way for reform for other states across the nation. Victories such as Virginia’s recent adoption of a semi-independent redistricting commission (8 legislators and 8 citizens, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans) during the past election cycle indicates that voters desire an improved redistricting process. If Colorado can successfully implement its two independent redistricting commissions, the implications for reform may be significant.
- Getting independent redistricting has been an arduous process
Relinquishing power from politicians is no easy feat, and in Colorado, gaining an independent redistricting commission has been a years-long process. Like most states, Colorado has historically given redistricting power to states legislators. After 2010, a slight pivot transitioned power to a politically appointed commission that was still marred with partisanship. Change was introduced once again in 2018 when amendments Y and Z were placed on the ballot. The amendments passed with sweeping approval and effectively established independent redistricting commissions for legislative and congressional redistricting. Now, 2021 will mark the fruition of the voter’s will – new commissioners will be selected and fair maps will be drawn at last.
- Selecting new commissioners is underway
The historic meeting to choose Colorado’s first six commissioners transpired on February 1st and led to the selection of Jolie C. Brawner (U, CD1), Lori Smith Schell (U, CD3), Paula Espinoza (D, CD4), Elizabeth Wilkes (D, CD5), Danny D. Moore (R, CD6), and William J. Leone (R, CD7). The process was initiated by a panel of 3 retired judges when they announced their selections of 50 Democratic, 50 Republican, and 50 independent applicants. Out of the pool, each judge randomly selected two applicants from each pool to serve. According to procedure, each commissioner represents a different Colorado district, ensuring optimal fairness. By March, the final six commissioners will be selected by judges based on candidate lists presented by minority and majority leaders from the state House and state Senate, thus completing the selection of Colorado’s 12 inaugural commissioners.
- Here’s who is being considered
Unlike the days of the past, those drawing new maps are not elected officials. Rather, the commission required that candidates be interested in creating fair maps, have voted in the last two Colorado general elections, and have not changed their affiliation for the past five years. Additional requirements exclude those holding office, recently elected officials, current candidates and lobbyists.
- The census is threatening to delay the redistricting process
As if the past year has not presented enough chaos for democracy, the most pressing variable in the current redistricting process is the delay of census data due to COVID-19. Originally, Coloradans expected census data to be available by March, but current realities suggest that the earliest data will be available is July 30th. This is especially problematic when the current state deadline for new maps is currently September 1st (congressional) and 15th (legislative). Already, some legislators are pushing to extend the deadline to give commissioners more time to diligently decide on new maps. These decisions will likely culminate with input from the Colorado Supreme Court and will have tangible impacts on upcoming elections.
- Stay Connected
There is much to be decided; Colorado’s first independent redistricting commission will have no shortage of action this year. The decisions made have supreme implications for democracy reform in the Centennial state and will have long-term impacts on the fairness of elections for years to come. Here are the best ways to stay up-to-date on Colorado redistricting:
- Follow Colorado’s Redistricting Twitter account: @CORedistricting
- Sign up for the CO redistricting email list
- Watch or Listen to committee hearings as they happen