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Preliminary redraw of state legislative maps scrambles local senate, house districts

June 30, 2021, 11:28 am

Colorado’s Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission on Tuesday released preliminary plans for the state’s once-a-decade update to the Colorado General Assembly’s 100 legislative districts, but the commission cautioned that final details are likely to change as it receives public feedback and more granular population data.

The preliminary maps draw new boundaries for 65 seats in the Colorado House of Representatives and 35 seats in the state Senate, based on population changes since the last round of redistricting 10 years ago. In a state that has trended increasingly blue in recent years, the proposed new maps would give Democrats a good chance at retaining their majorities in both chambers, according to voting and registration data released by the commission’s nonpartisan staff.

Commission staff warned, however, that the preliminary maps could undergo significant changes once more detailed population data from the U.S. Census Bureau becomes available. Because of pandemic-related delays, final decennial census data are not expected to be released until after the commission is required to submit its final plan to the Colorado Supreme Court in mid-September. In the meantime, the court has sanctioned the commission’s use of preliminary data sources, which include initial reapportionment data from the Census Bureau, estimates from the annual American Community Survey and data from the state demographer’s office.

“Especially for the House plan, we cannot stand by the accuracy of this data, but we believe that this is a reasonable first effort,” Jessika Shipley, the commission’s staff director, told commissioners during a hearing Tuesday morning.

In addition to the preliminary maps, commission staff released a memo detailing the process used to create them, along with a list of attachments breaking down the proposed new districts according to demographic data, voter registration numbers and other factors. Staff briefed commissioners on the preliminary plans and took questions during Tuesday’s hearing.

“This is drinking from a fire hydrant for us right now,” said commissioner John Buckley, a Republican from Colorado Springs. “I’m grateful for the explanation from the staff, and it’s going to take several hours to digest all the attachments.”

Along with a separate panel handling congressional redistricting, which released its own preliminary plan last week, the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission is a first-of-its-kind body established following the approval of Amendments Y and Z by Colorado voters in 2018. Supported by a bipartisan group of state leaders and aimed at ending the practice of gerrymandering, the amendments took redistricting power away from lawmakers in the General Assembly and gave it instead to the two independent commissions. The commissioners were selected from a pool of applicants through a multi-step process that included a review by a panel of retired judges and a random drawing.

The 12-member legislative commission, which is composed of four registered Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated voters, must approve the final map with at least a two-thirds majority. The maps are required to meet certain definitive requirements, including contiguity of districts and population equality, as well as satisfy a range of more subjective criteria, including the preservation of “communities of interest” and “to the extent possible, maximiz(ing) the number of politically competitive districts.”

According to data released by commission staff on Tuesday, voters in 39 of the 65 proposed House districts favored Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper in Colorado’s 2020 U.S. Senate election, while voters in 26 proposed districts favored former Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. For the proposed Senate map, the margin was 21 to 14 in favor of Hickenlooper. Those margins roughly match the majorities that Democrats currently hold in both the House and the Senate, which are 41 to 24 and 20 to 15, respectively.

The commission will solicit feedback on the preliminary maps during a series of public hearings held throughout the state during July and August, with the first hearing scheduled to take place in Lamar on July 9. Members of the public can also submit comments through the commission’s website.

“We do want to listen to the public,” said commission chair Carlos Perez, an unaffiliated voter from Colorado Springs. “We do have the 32 meetings during the months of July and August, and then we’ll have additional meetings related around the staff plans — plenty of opportunity for people to make comments.” HELP US GROW Make a tax-deductible donation.

Editor’s note 1: For interactive preliminary maps of the new state senate district that would include Eagle County, click here, and for the state house, click here.

Editor’s note 2: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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