Legislature could help Colorado redistricting overhaul get on the ballot

Author: Joey Bunch - April 19, 2018 - Updated: April 26, 2018

redistrictingFair Districts Colorado chairman Kent Thiry talks to the Club 20 coalition in Grand Junction about changing the way the state draws political districts. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

After opposing groups made peace on changing how Colorado draws political boundaries, lawmakers will now have a say in the matter.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, and Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder, are sponsoring legislation that would put the question on the ballot in November. Colorado voters, then, would decide if the General Assembly should continue to wrangle over congressional and legislative boundaries, or whether those maps should the work of independent commissions who stress competitiveness over political advantage.

Fair Districts Colorado, the group that first proposed the change, and People Not Politicians, made up of suspicious groups that blocked them, worked out their differences last month. Together they filed paperwork to collect signatures to get initiatives 170 and 171 on the ballot.

If the legislature provides what’s called a referred measure on the November ballot, it would save the groups a lot of time and money, if they don’t have to collect at least 98,402 verified signatures.

The groups are proposing:

  • Independent commissions to draw district maps for the General Assembly and U.S. House members. Each commission would have balanced representation with Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated members, with safeguards to ensure unaffiliated members do not have ties to either major party.
  • Criteria to prohibit gerrymandering while respecting federal voting laws on “communities of interest” for racial and ethnic minorities, as well as rural communities. Mapmakers will aim to keep municipalities and counties within the same district or districts.
  • Less partisanship in the map-drawing process with the help of non-partisan staff and the public, plus a requirement for a super-majority to adopt a final map. Legal challenges will face more scrutiny.
  • “Robust” transparency and public-participation guidelines.

The left-leaning fair elections group Common Cause did a more detailed breakdown of the proposals, which you can read by clicking here.

The state redraws statehouse and congressional districts after the census every 10 years. The legislature draws the boundaries, and the party in the majority tends to exert its will, until the maps wind up in court. In the process, Democrats and Republicans have carved out districts of enough like-minded voters to ensure safe for their incumbents, a shadowy process called gerrymandering.

That gives the major parties tremendous power in deciding who gets elected and ensuring those officeholders stick to party doctrine or face a primary, according to critics.

“I am pleased to see legislators on both sides of the aisle supporting these important measures designed to protect us from gerrymandering,” former House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, one of the leaders of Fair Districts Colorado, said in a statement.

“We need our representatives to step up now to avoid the kind of bitterly divided fights that were waged during the last two redistricting cycles. Coloradans across the political spectrum will benefit from a process that is fair, transparent, less partisan, and ultimately more effective.”

Stated People Not Politicians’ Joe Zimlich, chief executive of the Bohemian Group: “Colorado deserves a process that allows people to choose their politicians. A process that allows broad public involvement, a process that will create fair and competitive districts, and will not give either political party an advantage.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.