Redistricting commissions looking for public input before drawing preliminary maps

Colorado will add a congressional district ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, and the state's independent redistricting commissions are currently seeking public comment about where those lines should be drawn. (Courtesy)

Colorado’s two independent redistricting commissions are looking for public comment on how people feel the new voting boundaries should be drawn — and where the state’s new congressional district should be.

An increase of about 750,000 people in Colorado since the 2010 census, a nearly 15% growth, has the congressional commission not just redrawing lines but shaking up all the state’s districts when choosing where the state’s new U.S. House Representative will come from.

The public comment received now, which will be accepted until June 13 for congressional districts and until June 18 for legislative districts, will be used to shape the preliminary maps presented across the state later in the summer.

“Now is the time if you have any comments of how we should draw our house, senate or congressional lines; the time is now to make public comment on our website,” said Robin Schepper, a Routt County resident who serves as a Democratic representative on the legislative-focused commission. “The staff is going to be creating maps based on public comment.”

Hampering the redistricting process throughout has been the lack of data from the 2020 Census, which is not expected to be available until the middle of August because of pandemic-related delays. While the overall population change is known, commissioners are still waiting to know how things changed in different parts of the state.

For now, preliminary maps will draw on data collected from the American Community Survey, which is sent to about 3.5 million random Americans each year.

Colorado Redistricting Timeline

June 13: Public comment on congressional redistricting closes.

June 18: Public comment on legislative redistricting closes.

June 23: Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission receives preliminary congressional map.

June 28: Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission receives preliminary state senate and state house maps.

July 7-Aug. 30: Commissions hold joint public hearings on the preliminary maps throughout the state.

Aug. 16: Staff receives redistricting data from the Census Bureau in legacy format and begins preparing the data and the staff maps.

Sept. 2021: Commissions hold additional public hearings on staff maps using final census data.

Oct. 2021: Final maps are sent to Colorado Supreme Court for approval.

Dec. 2021: Redistricting is completed as required by the state constitution.

In a ruling last week, the Colorado Supreme Court said the commissions could be flexible in how they create these preliminary maps, paving the way to use the ACS data and start planning for meetings in 32 different cities across the state, including at least one in Steamboat Springs.

That ruling also said a bill working through the Colorado General Assembly was unconstitutional, clearly stating that the legislative branch had no authority to tell the voter-approved, independent commissions what to do.

Chair of the legislative commission Carlos Perez, an unaffiliated Colorado Springs voter, in a statement last week said he was pleased after the court ruling emphasized that the commissions need to “maintain a professional, yet arms-length relationship with the General Assembly.”

Comments already submitted to the commissions are viewable online, and some have submitted sample maps for how they want the new congressional districts to look.

Some are pushing for a horizontally shaped southern district stretching from Grand Junction to Pueblo. Others are looking to group mountain towns like Steamboat, lumping several communities with similar interests together.

The commissions are supposed to create these new districts by assessing the competitiveness and compactness of the districts, while also considering communities of interest, which are groups of people who share significant interests in common potentially warranting inclusion in the same district.

The final districts also need to adhere to the federal Voting Rights Act, respecting existing political boundaries, such as cities and counties, and ensuring fair minority representation.

Comments already submitted from Steamboat residents are already pushing for just that, asking the state house district, which includes Routt and Eagle counties, stay the same to keep similar communities together.

“If people in Routt County feel strongly … they need to write,” Schepper said. “I would love to see more comments from Northwest Colorado, because there are definitely more comments from other parts of the state.”

Longtime Steamboat resident Diane Brower wrote she believes Routt County should no longer be included in what is now the 3rd Congressional District, which sprawls all the way from south central Colorado to the northwest corner. Brower pointed to the Routt County Board of Commissioners move earlier this year to leave a regional association as evidence for how the county diverges from the rest of the district.

“We are a mountain and resort community, unlike most of the counties in District 3,” Brower wrote. “There are many areas in which Routt County differs from most of District 3 but is similar to other resort communities to the south and east.”

Schepper said ensuring competitiveness could be difficult in part because there are so many unaffiliated voters in Colorado. The commission is working on defining what a competitive district looks like.

“Colorado is changing, and we all want representation that represents our interests. Obviously, agriculture and rural issues are really important to the Western Slope but so is tourism and climate change. So how do you marry that all together?” Schepper said, laying out the difficult question the commissions are tasked to answer.

Starting July 7, the commissions will hold joint meetings across the state to gather feedback, nine of which are currently slated to be in CD3, including one in Steamboat and one in Craig. The meetings will run through the end of August, though exact schedules are not yet available. Schepper said she hopes at least partial schedules will be released in the next 10 days.

After creating new maps with the census data, the commissions will hold more public meetings in September before submitting maps to the Colorado Supreme Court in October. Redistricting needs to be complete by December.

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