Selection process underway for independent commissions to redraw legislative, congressional borders

Colorado expected to pick up extra congressional seat
Colorado Congressional_Districts, 113th Congress
Posted at 9:25 PM, Jan 13, 2021

DENVER — Colorado could gain another congressional seat when Census results are released, which means congressional and state legislative boundaries would be redrawn.

The redistricting process will be much different than the last time around.

Ten years ago, legislative leadership, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper and Chief Justice Monica Marquez appointed a commission to do legislative redistricting.

Jessika Shipley was on the redistricting staff.

"I can tell you the perception was deals were being made in back rooms," Shipley said, "and that was very confusing and shocking to people. They didn't want to think about it that way."

Shipley said the legislature put together a committee to do congressional redistricting in 2011.

"The committee didn't manage to come to any sort of agreement, so the court system had to draw our congressional map," Shipley said.

Colorado Congressional_Districts, 113th Congress

"We want to make sure that maps aren't gerrymandered," said Amanda Gonzalez, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, one of 16 authors of Amendments Y and Z, which were overwhelmingly approved by voters.

Those amendments have dramatically changed the way the upcoming redistricting will be carried out.

"For the first time, it's going to be an independent process controlled by everyday Coloradans instead of politicians," Gonzalez said,

She said commission members can't be politicians, political insiders or lobbyists, which means, "we should get a process that is really fair." Gonzalez said that's what all Coloradans want.

"They want fair maps. They want fair representation, and they want a fair say in what happens in their lives," Gonzales said. "What we want at Colorado Common Cause is a process that all voters can trust."

The selection process is underway now.

Shipley said two judicial panels — appointed by Chief Justice Nathan Coats and made up of retired justices from the Court of Appeals — have met to start narrowing down the number of applicants.

There were a total of 2,100 applicants for the Congressional Redistricting Commission and about 1,400 for the Legislative Redistricting Commission, Shipley said.

Approximately 20% of the applicants were rejected for eligibility issues.

Shipley said the Congressional Commission met Jan. 8 and did a random draw to "pare down" the number of applicants. The Legislative Commission did the same thing Jan. 12.

"They're sorting by party affiliation and congressional district," Shipley said.

On Feb. 1, the Congressional Panel will meet for another random draw to further pare down the number of applicants.

Shipley said legislative leaders, majority and minority of both House and Senate, are required to come up with 10 applicants from each party for each commission. The judges will make the final selection.

Each commission will have 12 members: four democrats, four republicans and four unaffiliated.

Shipley said members selected must reflect the demographics of the state.

"They're looking for applicants who can demonstrate an ability to form consensus," Shipley said.

Once they're selected, the commission members will conduct 21 meetings, getting input from urban and rural areas all across Colorado.

Gonzalez said the commissions will be looking to put people who have similar interests in the same districts.

"They will prioritize communities of interest," Gonzalez said.

On the congressional side, the goal is to get eight districts of equal population. The goal is to get 35 Senate and 65 House districts of equal population on the legislative side.

"They need to follow the provisions of the Voters Rights Act of 1968," Shipley said. "They need to make all their districts compact and contiguous and must, as much as possible, follow political boundaries like counties and municipalities, and then they can start looking at things like political competitiveness."

Shipley said the public will be given ample opportunity to weigh in, and they can learn more about redistricting through the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions.

"If the public wants to draw their own maps, evaluate our maps, or submit their own maps, there will be an opportunity for that," Shipley said.

Shipley said the pandemic and Census issues have slowed the process.

"Census numbers are not coming in when we were expecting them to," Shipley said. "Ordinarily we would get them at the end of February or early March, but the rumor I'm hearing now is late summer to early fall. I don't know if that's true."

Shipley said it has a tremendous impact because, "we need to be done by the end of September, according to the Constitution, and it's a deadline that can't be waived."

Shipley said if the Census figures are that delayed, "we wouldn't have time to do the things required by the Constitution, which is travel around the state, and kind of do a road show with the plans, and solicit public input."

The General Assembly might have to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in and change some of those deadlines, according to Shipley.

Gonzalez is optimistic Census figures won't be overly delayed.

"These are going to be the districts that govern our lives and determine whether or not we have a say in the policies that affect our everyday lives," Gonzalez said. "Whether or not you're a teacher, or a parent or just someone who cares about their community, your voice is important in this process."