Colorado Map Under Fire

The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission members released for public input the third congressional map — and second staff offering. (Click on map to see bigger map, more detail)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 7, 2021 — As we reported last week, the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission, on an 11-1 vote, sent to the state Supreme Court an eight-district congressional map for legal approval. The commission members met the Sept. 28 deadline that the voter-passed initiatives mandated. Also under the measures, the high court has until Dec. 15 to approve the map.

Already, talk of legal challenges has begun. At least two organized groups according to the Colorado Sun news site, the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization and the national Campaign Legal Center, are considering filing challenges to the map based upon its grouping of Hispanic voters. The latter group is an unofficial legal arm for the national Democratic Party.

Additionally, the Colorado Democratic Party is also considering a challenge based upon the competitive nature of the overall map, citing the language outlined in the two initiatives that created the new redistricting process, Amendments Y and Z from the 2018 election.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Wolcott), the Senate President Pro Tempore, who is actively challenging Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Silt) in the western slope 3rd District, is suspending her fundraising efforts until she sees what the court rules in relation to the congressional map, which she opposes. Concerning the entire map, but especially regarding the 3rd District, Sen. Donovan said the plan is, “an inexplicable change given that Colorado has grown significantly more Democratic since the last redistricting process 10 years ago.”

It’s interesting that the Democrats are beginning to object on a competitive argument. The commission plan favors them, though the new 8th District is clearly a swing seat. This, and the surrounding districts, comprise the heart of their argument regarding Hispanic voting power. The partisan arguments clearly concern the 3rd District, especially since their top priority is to unseat the conservative firebrand, Rep. Boebert.

The Hispanic question comes into play in the 3rd, too, but the commission took the points made in public comments under consideration when they expanded that district’s southeastern border. In order to keep the historical integrity of the western slope seat intact, a district that has always encompassed the western area of the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming on the north, New Mexico to the south, and Utah out west, and maximize the number of Hispanics, the commission members seemed to achieve the two objectives.

The original staff map paired Rep. Boebert with Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Boulder), but it still left most of her 3rd District consistent with the historical design and would have likely elected a Republican. That draw broke apart the western slope, however, and took Rep. Neguse’s Boulder anchored seat all the way to Utah. It appeared few liked that version, and it was quickly eliminated from further consideration.

Because of geography and the other stated objective of keeping counties and localities whole whenever possible, it is difficult to draw a competitive 3rd, 4th, and 5th District. Those seats occupy most of Colorado’s geography, and encompass virtually everything except the northern middle of the state, in and around Denver and its suburbs.

Therefore, looking at a mostly Republican region and adhering to the population and geographical constraints, in addition to the locality wholeness requirements, leads to a conclusion that the commission members reasonably met their legal objectives.

It is further surprising that the Democrats would want more competition, especially when the commission made Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s (D-Arvada) Jefferson County anchored 7th CD much more competitive than in the current map, which was court-drawn 10 years ago. Additionally, with a one-point Democratic margin, there is no question that the new 8th is highly competitive.

Since this is the first commission-drawn map in Colorado history, it will be interesting to see how the state Supreme Court rules. It appears the members followed the public comments and the criteria laid before them, so the pressure will be squarely on the plaintiffs’ to deliver highly compelling arguments.

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