OPINION: Let’s Reform Colorado’s Redistricting

By Aaron Cohen

Following a statewide discussion generated by the submission of redistricting ballot initiatives in early September, ‘Fair Districts Colorado’ this week filed three new proposals with the Office of Legislative Council.

After more than a month in the public eye, the committee behind the initiatives says it’s listening.

“Like we’ve always said, we’re open to constructive comments that give the redistricting processes back to the voters. We’re grateful for the input from dozens of individuals and groups across the state in recent weeks,” said former State Representative Kathleen Curry. “We will reform redistricting so that the power is with the people and not corrupt political power brokers. All we ask is that people check their partisan credentials at the door to find the fairest process for Colorado communities.”

Every ten years, congressional and state legislative district boundaries are redrawn to adjust for population and demographic shifts. Colorado has a checkered history of redistricting abuses, with claims of gerrymandering launched by both parties.

Joining Curry as a designated representative of the proponents for the three new initiatives is former Deputy Secretary of State Bill Hobbs. “The redistricting process in Colorado is broken,” said Hobbs, who, like Curry is an unaffiliated voter. “The partisans who currently draw maps have a huge conflict of interest. Instead of drawing competitive districts and trying to keep communities whole, they are primarily motivated by a single goal: maximizing the number of districts their party wins. Partisan political power should not be the underlying motive of map-drawers. These measures will help end gerrymandering by placing the process for drawing maps into a balanced, independent commission that utilizes nonpartisan staff to draw maps using neutral, fair criteria, operating transparently.”

Fair Districts Colorado filed its original language in September, followed by a unanimous Title Board ruling that approved title language. Yesterday, the Title Board unanimously reaffirmed its previous approval at a re-hearing.

The new initiatives make the following adjustments:

  • Requires the approval of eight of 12 commissioners to approve any final map, including the affirmative vote of no fewer than two independent commissioners. The previous measures required the affirmative vote of only one independent to approve any final map.
    Require all appointees to the commission to go through an application process, not just the independent appointees.
  • Stipulates that appointees from the two largest political parties are made by the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the House Majority Leader and the House Minority Leader. Prior measures stipulated that the two political parties would appoint the partisans.
  • Adjusts the appointment process for the independent commissioner by utilizing a random drawing of four from among 20 recommendations made by a panel of senior or retired judges.
  • Clarifies that the public has the opportunity to comment on maps or propose ideas for maps at any time.

Proponents are required to appear before Legislative Council and the Title Board on a prescribed schedule that she cannot meet.

Ms. Larson, First Vice President of the League of Women Voters and, with Curry, a designated representative of the proponents for the initial two measures filed in September, made the following statement in support of these additional reform initiatives:

“Representatives from the League of Women Voters of Colorado have been involved in this effort from day one, starting in January. The new measure adopts a number of positive recommendations. Working with other members of this effort, the League has helped reach out to all lawmakers and several community, business and minority groups, soliciting input from all corners.”

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