What is redistricting, and what is the current process in Colorado?
Redistricting is the way in which we adjust the legislative districts that determine who represents us in Congress and the state legislature. Under the current process in Colorado following the federal census in 2010, each of Colorado’s seven United States Representatives and 100 state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States Census. In Colorado, the state legislature draws U.S. Congressional district lines; these lines are subject to veto by the governor. However, the process is different for state legislative boundaries, which are drawn by a “political commission.” Comprised of 11 members, this commission is selected as follows:
1. The legislature’s four leaders (i.e., the majority and minority leaders of each chamber) select one member each.
2. The governor appoints three commissioners.
3. The chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court selects the remaining four members.
What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating Congressional and state legislative district boundaries. In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group demographic, an example is U.S. federal voting district boundaries that produce a majority of constituents representative of African-American or other racial minorities. Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents.
What's wrong with the current system?
Redistricting is a fiercely contested issue, primarily due to gerrymandering Political parties or incumbents sometimes draw district lines for their own benefit at the expense of proportionality and fair representation. Some argue that this practice contributes to the present lack of competitive elections. Uncompetitive elections can in turn discourage participation. Also, district lines sometimes minimize the influence of minority voters by disproportionately consolidating them within single districts or splitting them across several districts. In both the 2000 and 2010 redistricting cycles, divided state legislatures were unable to approve congressional redistricting plans, and as a result, final maps were drawn by state courts and not by a transparent process.
How will the Fair Districts Colorado initiatives fix the current system?
The Fair Districts Colorado initiatives will create new, independent commissions to redistrict both the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. Consisting of Republicans, Democrats and those unaffiliated with either major party, a supermajority vote will be required to prevent one party from hijacking the process. To minimize the “stuff the ballot box dynamic”, by which both parties attempt to get their “independents” on the commission, our initiatives use senior / recently retired judges to identify truly independent finalists. Fair Districts Colorado takes the district map-drawing from partisan political operatives and puts it in the hands of non-partisan staff to draw district boundaries. The commission’s and its staff’s business must be conducted in open, public meetings to ensure transparency (no more back-room deals and less partisan gamesmanship). Colorado law already recognizes several nationally-recognized good government criteria. We want to add competitiveness, once those other criteria are ensured.
The current system of exploiting an unfettered and unchecked congressional redistricting system flies in the face of democratic values like fair representation and the ability of voters to influence election results. Redistricting based mainly on political criteria leads to polarization, unfair representation, limited voter choice and skewed primary results. Currently Unaffiliated voters, comprising over a third of voters, have little to no voice in the system.
To change the current system, efforts must begin now to put the Fair Districts Colorado initiatives on the ballot for voters to decide in the November 2018 election. New Congressional and state legislature boundaries will be drawn following the 2020 federal census and a commission needs to be in place in order to begin work immediately. Seventy-five percent (75%) of Colorado voters support an independent commission, and the support for transparency is even higher at 90%.
What are the "neutral" criteria for drawing district boundaries?
There are several criteria for drawing district boundaries based on existing federal and state requirements found in state and federal statutes including the US Constitution and the Federal Voting Rights Act. Examples of criteria are:
Equal Population, each district within a state must have about the same number of people.Contiguity, the principle that all areas within a district should be “physically adjacent.”Compactness, the concept that “the distance between all parts of a district” ought to be minimized.Communities of Interest shall be preserved, protecting people in a geographical area, such as a specific region or neighborhood that have common political, social or economic interests.Competitiveness prohibits districts from being drawn for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against a political party or candidate.
Why should I care about any of this?
Every ten years district lines are redrawn to assure that all districts have nearly equal population. Populations change over a decade. If districts are redrawn to keep communities intact, people are better able to elect representatives who will further their interests. When we have districts that keep communities together, they can speak to their representatives with strength and power. When they are divided, elected officials are more likely to ignore their needs. Being a part of the process to draw fair districts is crucial for our Colorado communities. It’s important that elected officials listen to the public and not just to special interests.