A woman crosses Welton Street in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood on Oct. 28, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
Carly Hare, an unaffiliated voter and chair of Colorado’s newly formed independent congressional redistricting commission, started the group’s Monday meeting with a moment of celebration.
“We are an eight congressional district state now, which means interesting work ahead for us,” she said with a nervous laugh.
Colorado is among six states that will gain at least one congressional seat in the 2022 election as a result of population increases over the last decade. The state’s population has grown from 5,044,930 in 2010 to 5,782,171 in 2020 — a nearly 15% increase.
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The U.S. Census Bureau on April 26 released its updated apportionment data, which determines how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives. (The populations of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are not included in the population because they do not have voting seats in Congress.) The data is typically released in December, but due to the pandemic was released on Monday.
“Today Colorado officially learned that we’ll be adding an 8th Congressional District for the 2022 election,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a written statement. “Over the last 10 years, we have seen incredible growth and transformation in our state, and we’re thrilled that Colorado will have more representation in our nation’s capital.”
Though the announcement is key for the state’s redistricting process, the state is still waiting on more detailed data in order to determine where that new district will be located.
Still unclear where new congressional district will be drawn
The decision will largely be left to the members of the 12-member independent congressional redistricting commission. But the district is likely to be in the Front Range.
The commission is unable to accurately draw the congressional boundaries until the Census Bureau releases more detailed population data — such as race, ethnicity, voting age and housing occupancy status. The group also needs to host constitutionally required public input meetings throughout the state to present its proposed maps.
The congressional commission is currently planning how to solicit public comment for its yet-to-be-drafted maps. State law requires the congressional commission and a second commission that will redraw boundaries of state House and Senate districts to host at least 21 public meetings around the state. Due to COVID-19, those meetings could occur virtually. Members of the public are encouraged to submit public comments to the commission’s website and will soon be able to submit their own maps for consideration.
The redistricting data is expected to be released by Aug. 16, which leaves only 16 days for the commissioners to finalize and submit their map to the Colorado Supreme Court and meet their statutory deadlines.
Sara Hagedorn, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, says it’s extremely unlikely the commissions can get the redistricting done in time for the September deadline.
“There’s honestly no way,” she said.
If the commission isn’t able to get the maps drafted in time to meet the deadlines set in the state Constitution — and no legal remedy is found — the state could ultimately be sued. Pushing back the deadlines will also impact the 2022 election cycle because people can’t campaign for a seat if they don’t know where it will be located.
A bill at the state Legislature aims to give the commission more flexibility when it comes to its statutory deadline. Senate Bill 21-247 would essentially ask the Supreme Court to allow the commission to use old census data to draw preliminary maps to present to the public for input. The maps would then be updated using the final census numbers.
New seat will ‘reshuffle the deck’ for 2022 elections
The three main things the commission members are required to take into consideration when drawing new congressional maps are that communities of interest are represented and the districts have similar populations and remain competitive.
Hagedorn said the requirement that districts must be drawn in a way that ensures they are competitive — meaning a Democrat and a Republican have relatively equal chances of winning an election — is going to spice up an already spicy 2022 election cycle.
“All of a sudden, these candidates running for Congress are going to have to go out and see what the voters want because all of a sudden now, these new requirements mean that these seats are not going to be solidly Democrat or solidly Republican,” Hagedorn said.
“So what we’re not going to see is the same people winning over and over and over again,” she added. “It’s going to reshuffle the deck for 2022. I mean, 2020 was already going to be fascinating in terms of midterm, but it completely changes. I mean, tons of people in this state are going to be seeing someone different on their ballot than they’ve seen before.”
With Colorado’s large percentage of unaffiliated voters, keeping districts truly competitive is a difficult task, she said.
“What they’re going to have to look at is precinct by precinct voting because just because someone is unaffiliated does not mean that they’re not interested in politics,” Hagedorn said. “It also doesn’t mean that they don’t always vote Republican or always vote Democrat. In fact, most of them do in Colorado.”
She said despite the hurdles that are in front of the redistricting commission, she still has faith that the process will result in fair and accurate maps for the next decade.
“There’s going to be some growing pains,” she said. “Competitive districts are going to be painful for people who like their members of Congress, which honestly is a lot of people.”
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