Election workers process ballots at the Arapahoe County Elections Facility in Littleton. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)
As Colorado’s new redistricting commissions were forming this year a hostile view of them could be detected among Colorado progressives. It started quietly and started to grow, and now it’s emerging into full view.
It demands a response.
The commissions were adopted after Colorado voters in 2018 approved amendments Y and Z. States redraw political districts every 10 years based on new census data, and the measures created one redistricting commission for congressional districts and another for the state House and Senate districts. They were designed to elevate fairness and transparency, and to minimize partisanship and gerrymandering.
Previously, legislative districts were drawn by a reapportionment commission whose members were mostly chosen by politicians, and congressional districts were drawn by politicians in the Legislature. Partisanship took precedence over public participation and fairness.
That’s what some Democrats miss.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Heading into the November 2018 election, Democrats controlled the governor’s office and the state House of Representatives, but Republicans controlled the state Senate. Moreover, a Republican-friendly campaign, Fair Districts Colorado, threatened to get onto the ballot a redistricting measure that opponents called “a false solution that would actually guarantee Republican control in Colorado” and diminish representation of communities of color. Democratic insiders at the time concluded the campaign was likely to succeed, so progressive redistricting advocates calculated that a compromise — Y and Z — was preferable. Compromise is so unpopular these days as to be almost taboo, but amendments Y and Z were referred to the ballot with unanimous, bipartisan support in the Legislature, and voters adopted them with 71% majorities. The amendments earned a “national model” aura.
Now a lot of Democrats have buyer’s remorse. Why? Power.
In that same 2018 election, Democrats took trifecta control of state government, and some progressive Coloradans wish they’d retained the ability to gerrymander for Democrats.
“We’re (expletive) idiots,” a Democratic state lawmaker told The Colorado Sun in a story about how “some Democrats regret Colorado’s new redistricting process now that their party is in charge.” That state lawmaker didn’t want their name in the story, which asserted that “a number of Democrats are privately” expressingly a similar view. Rick Ridder, a Democratic strategist, went on record in the story: “They basically decided to hang themselves for the next 12 years,” he said of Democrats’ supposed giveaway of plenary redistricting authority.
This is all so dreary.
Political districts are integral to the very operation of elections, in which voters exercise their most essential rights as Americans. Ideally the design of a political district should be no more partisan than the architecture of the U.S. House chamber, and it should serve as a neutral vessel in which partisanship plays out to whatever degree the electorate will tolerate. Political hardball has its place. Elimination of the filibuster, resort to executive orders, expansion of the Supreme Court — these and other similar tactical moves might be aggressive and yield some immediate partisan advantage, but unlike gerrymandering they don’t fundamentally slant democracy’s foundation toward one party or the other.
Some progressives argue that everyone gerrymanders and that if Democrats voluntarily relinquish partisan redistricting prerogatives they naively cede ground to Republican gerrymanderers. It’s both true that Democrats are often guilty of gerrymandering and that Republicans are far worse offenders. But bad behavior on one side doesn’t justify the other’s in-kind corruption. And with how directly and crucially the right to vote intersects with voting districts, rigging the redistricting process is akin to rejecting democracy itself.
As the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in support of Arizona’s independent redistricting commission, “voters sought to restore ‘the core principle of republican government,’ namely, ‘that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.'” What some Colorado Democrats are saying is that it’s a shame Democratic representatives don’t get to choose their voters.
They know this is an unsupportable position. Want proof? Most won’t say it out loud. What’s worse, they’re hypocrites. Democrats throughout the country are rightly calling out Republicans for brazen voter suppression efforts. But anyone on the left who in one breath supports voter protection measures, such as The For the People Act, and in the next disdains the Colorado redistricting commissions is either confused or duplicitous. Moreover, 2018 was not that long ago. It’s as if amnesia has inflicted half the Colorado left and it forgot the circumstances that produced Y and Z.
The redistricting commissions do have a serious problem. But it is not that Democrats gave away the store. It’s that Republicans are looting it. The Republican Party today is little more than a band of democracy-hating crooks. Party leaders, starting with former President Donald Trump and including malefactors such as U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and every other liar who has helped persuade millions of Americans that President Joe Biden’s win in November was fraudulent, have done incalculable damage to the country’s electoral mechanics. They’d rather destroy democracy than lose elections. There is no system of redistricting — and no system of government — that can long withstand such treachery. And this makes it all the more important for Democrats to stand for fairness and good faith.
As long as Colorado proceeds with redistricting, Y and Z deserve an honest defense against revisionism and mendacious attacks. The measures aren’t perfect. Future improvements might be called for, such as to allow for flexible deadlines in the case of an emergency like a pandemic, and to establish a process to boot commissioners who, after they’re selected, turn out to be unfit for public service.
But the measures enjoyed broad support among the interested parties who count the most — the people. And they enshrined in the state Constitution principles from the federal Voting Rights Act even as those principles are eroded at the national level. Any future improvements would only make a good system better.
SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.