DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s independent redistricting commissions finally received the U.S. Census data they need Thursday to rush to completion their year-end mission: Crafting new congressional districts, including a new U.S. House seat, and new state legislative districts for the rest of the decade.
What they're finding is a rapidly-growing Colorado that's increasingly urban, less white and whose Hispanic and Latino residents account for more than a fifth of the state's population — and are demanding the political power to match.
Already under pressure to meet state constitutional deadlines, the commissions now have the complex demographic data needed to craft maps, hold public hearings and submit them for approval by the state Supreme Court.
Once all that’s done, county clerks in Colorado’s 64 counties must draw new precincts in time to prepare for a 2022 elections calendar that includes precinct caucuses, state assemblies, primaries and general elections for the state’s eight U.S. representatives, a U.S. Senate seat, state lawmakers and a multitude of local offices.
Thursday's release of the redistricting data culled from the 2020 Census came more than four months later than expected due to delays caused by the pandemic.
An earlier data set released in April showed Colorado’s population rose by 14.8% between 2010 and 2020, or from 5 million to nearly 5.8 million, entitling the state to its first new congressional district in 20 years. Across the 50 U.S. states, total population reached 331.4 million in 2020, a 7.4% increase from 2010.
The Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metro area added more than 420,000 residents to reach more than 2.9 million people, up nearly 17% from 2010. Colorado Springs’ metro area jumped 17% over the decade, totaling more than 755,000 people. To the north, the Fort Collins and Greeley metro regions jumped by roughly 20% and 30%, respectively, as the Democrat-leaning Front Range drew young, Latino, Black and college-educated residents.
That growth has produced a preliminary congressional map placing a new eighth House district in the northern Denver metro region.
Several rural counties in eastern, southern and northern Colorado lost residents, including Baca, Bent, Cheyenne, Costilla, Kit Carson, Las Animas, Moffett, Prowers, Otero and Yuma — and those counties are likely to remain grouped together in sweeping, Republican-leaning congressional districts.
Statewide, those who identify as white alone declined as a share of total residents, from 70% in 2010 to 65% in 2020. Nationally, the share of the white population fell from 63.7% in 2010 to 57.8% in 2020, the lowest on record, driven by falling birthrates among white women compared with Hispanic and Asian women.
Some 22% of Colorado residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, roughly the same percentage as a decade earlier. Hispanics and Latinos represent the biggest share of residents in three counties — Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla — compared to two counties a decade ago.
Advocates for Colorado’s Hispanic and Latino residents this week argued for maps recognizing their economic and political diversity and ensuring their growing share of Colorado’s population is reflected in its politics.
“These Census numbers are an important reminder that Latinos must be better and more fairly represented everywhere, from classrooms to corporate boardrooms, and from newsrooms to the halls of power where decisions that impact our communities are being made,” Democratic state Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver said in a statement.
Nearly 5% of Colorado residents identify as Black or African American alone, compared to roughly 4% in 2010.
Democrats hold a 4-3 edge over Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation. They also control both legislative chambers, the governor’s and other state elected offices, and Colorado’s two U.S. Senate seats.
The redistricting commissions were created after voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018. The vote removed the task from lawmakers, political parties and the governor to make the process less partisan. The congressional commission consists of four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated residents — none of them current or recent officeholders.