DENVER — Tuesday marks the deadline for people who want to take part in the state’s redistricting to submit an application to join the independent commission.
The commission will be formed of four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated voters and will be tasked with redrawing the state and congressional boundaries.
Traditionally, those boundaries are redrawn by state lawmakers every 10 years after the federal census provides a count of the population.
This time around, however, average citizens will have the chance to choose how to redraw the boundaries.
“For the first time, that means that people are going to be picking their politicians and not the other way around, and not having politicians who are handcrafting districts that are in their favor or in their party’s favor,” said Amanda Gonzalez, the executive director of Colorado Common Cause.
The change was brought on by Amendments Y and Z that voters overwhelmingly approved during the 2018 midterm elections.
There will be two commission: one will handle the congressional redistricting and the other will handle legislative redistricting.
Because of the growing population, Colorado is expected to gain a congressional seat after the results of the 2020 census come out, leaving the state with eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The last time the state gained a new seat was in 2000.
The goal of the 2018 ballot measure was to prevent political gerrymandering, where the political party in charge of the legislature at the time of redistricting redraws the boundaries in such a way that favors their political party.
“There’s a couple ways that you can do that. You can either pack as many of your opponents into one or a few number of districts and therefore, yes they’re going to win in that district. But you will win all of the other districts,” said Jeremiah Barry, the managing attorney for the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions.
Another political gerrymandering tactic is to draw the lines in a way that fractures the other party so that they never have enough votes in one area to win the majority.
For the most part, Colorado has avoided the blatant gerrymandering lawmakers in other states have been accused of in the past and the tactic has not been a big problem.
However, Barry says while Colorado may seem to be turning blue, part of the reason may be the current iteration of the district maps.
“I think some of that may have been at the state level because the Democrats had controlled a lot of the redistricting 10 years ago. So, this is an opportunity for hopefully those districts to be created in such a way that there will be more competitive districts that will really reflect the will of more of the majority of people of Colorado,” Barry said.
The commission will be chosen to represent a wide range of demographics, with at least six seats chosen randomly and the other six chosen by a judicial panel of retired justices of the Colorado Supreme Court and court of appeals.
In order to be on the commission, those who apply must be registered to vote, have voted in the previous two general elections and have been affiliated with the same party during that time.
“Each commission cannot have more than two people from any one congressional district which means that we need to have geographic diversity on these commissions and that’s absolutely in the best interest of Colorado,” said Gonzalez.
Once chosen, the commissioners will go through rigorous training to understand how redistricting works and the laws regulating it.
Each commission will then hold 21 public meetings for the voters and others to weigh in on how they would like to see the maps redrawn and then balance those requests with the census data to fairly divide the districts.
“To re-draw those you don’t need to have a Ph.D. in redistricting. What you need is to understand Colorado and to have a commitment to fairness,” Gonzalez said.
Once chosen, districts will then be in place for the next 10 years, including the next five elections.
The new districts will be in effect in time for the 2022 midterm election.
“I’m not sure I can think of a process that lasts as long or has as big of an impact as re-drawing our districts and determining what does political power looks like for the next decade,” Gonzalez said.
The deadline to apply to be a member of the commission is midnight Tuesday.