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A preliminary plan released by Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission on Wednesday would create a new Democratic-leaning 8th District in Denver’s northern suburbs, substantially alter the boundaries of the Western Slope’s conservative 3rd District and make the 7th District seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter much more competitive.
The proposed map, which is only preliminary and likely to undergo changes in the coming months, is the next step in Colorado’s once-a-decade redistricting process, which for the first time is being governed by a new independent process established by a voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2018.
The preliminary plan was prepared by the commission’s nonpartisan staff. The panel’s 12 commissioners, who were selected from a pool of applicants earlier this year and include four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated voters, will hold hearings on the plan in July and August, and approve a final plan for submission to the Colorado Supreme Court later this year.
“I want to stress that this is a preliminary plan, created using best-guess estimates,” Jessika Shipley, staff director for the commission, said during a presentation on the plan during a Wednesday commission hearing. “It’s simply a baseline starting point for conversations around the state.”
Among the uncertainties surrounding the commission’s work are delays in the release of certain detailed population data by the U.S. Census Bureau as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Census officials are not expected to release final data until Sept. 30, weeks after the deadline for the commission to submit its final plan for review. In a ruling earlier this month, the state Supreme Court rebuked an attempt by lawmakers in the Colorado General Assembly to alter the process through legislation but affirmed the commission’s power to proceed with its work using preliminary data from other sources.
“That best-guess estimate came from the dataset that we created using a combination of the reapportionment number that we got in April, data from the state demographer’s office on municipalities and counties, estimates from the American Community Survey, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Master Address File,” Shipley said.
Materials released by the commission on Wednesday included the preliminary map, a memo outlining the process used to create it, and a series of documents breaking down the proposed new districts according to demographic information, voter registration data, measurements of compactness and more. Under the Colorado Constitution, congressional districts are required to satisfy a range of criteria, including population equality and contiguity, as well as, to the extent possible, preservation of “communities of interest” and existing subdivisions like county borders, and to “maximize the number of politically competitive districts.”
Thanks to its strong population growth over the last decade, Colorado will receive an extra congressional seat beginning with the 2022 election, the Census Bureau announced in its release of congressional apportionment data in April. The independent commission’s preliminary district map would create the new 8th District in an area that includes northern Denver suburbs like Westminster, Broomfield and Thornton, and stretches north as far as Johnstown and Milliken in Weld County.
Among the most significant changes to an existing district would come in the 3rd District currently represented by Rep. Lauren Boebert, the controversial first-term Republican who launched a successful primary challenge against former GOP Rep. Scott Tipton last year. Boebert’s district would lose the Democratic stronghold of Pueblo and much of the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado while gaining more affluent resort communities in Eagle and Summit counties. Voter registration data compiled by the commission show that the change would strengthen the 3rd District’s Republican lean.
Meanwhile, the 7th District would cede Denver’s northern suburbs to the new 8th District while gaining territory in the more conservative Douglas County, becoming significantly more competitive in the process. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 168,473 to 109,951 in the current 7th District, according to voter registration data from the Colorado secretary of state. In the proposed new 7th District, however, Republicans would have an edge of 153,821 to 136,430, according to commission estimates.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who has represented the 7th District since 2007 and won reelection last year with nearly 60% of the vote, lives just within the boundaries of the new 7th District as proposed by the preliminary map, according to The Colorado Sun.
A chart released by the commission Wednesday showed vote totals in the 2018 Colorado attorney general’s race, in which Democrat Phil Weiser was elected with 51% of the vote, broken down according to the eight proposed congressional districts. Democrats prevailed in four of the proposed districts, including the new 8th District, while Republicans prevailed in the other four, including the 7th District.
Separate preliminary maps for new state legislative districts are scheduled to be presented to the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission next week, and joint hearings on the proposed maps will be held throughout the state beginning on July 9.
“There could be innumerable questions,” Jeremiah Barry, an attorney for the redistricting panels, told commissioners on Wednesday. “There are all kinds of questions that I’m sure we will be asked, and the answer is, we thought this was the best plan we could come up with at the time. And that’s about it.”
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