The first hearing to solicit public testimony how to redraw the boundaries of Colorado’s state House and Senate districts will take place next Tuesday.
The 11-member Reapportionment Commission tasked its staff with coming up with a region map that will cover House and Senate seats in south-central Colorado, including Pueblo and the San Luis Valley.
That area was chosen for first hearing and maps because it has been under court scrutiny under the federal Voting Rights Act, and one of the area’s House seats, House District 62, is designated as a “majority-minority” district, drawn to include a majority of minority voters. Commissioners noted that because of its VRA impact they wanted more time to review maps for the area. Counties included in the southern Colorado region for next week’s hearing are Pueblo, Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, Huerfano, Las Animas, Mineral, Rio Grande and Saguache.
The next region that will be reviewed is the Western Slope, followed by the Eastern Plains. After that, commissioners will have to decide how to divide up the Front Range, likely into three more regions.
Commissioners put into place tight rules on just who gets to submit maps for their review. Members of the public who want to submit maps must get them “sponsored” by a commissioner; that’s so the maps can be reviewed by the legal staff to ensure they meet the legal criteria. However, commissioners didn’t rule out the possibility that members of the public could submit plans during the hearings in the coming weeks.
The specter of the failed Joint Select Committee on Redistricting, which has now resulted in two lawsuits, also hung over the Monday meeting, in a discussion of whether to identify commissioner maps by the author’s name. Jeremiah Barry of Legislative Legal Services noted the experience of the joint select committee, suggesting the maps be identified by a number rather than by author, although he acknowledged that once commissioners begin discussing a map the author may become obvious. And Commissioner Gayle Berry said that while she saw the validity in identifying a map by its numbers, she’d want to know who drew it so she could get more information about it.
Identifying a map only by number also flies in the face of public transparency, according to Commissioner Rob Witwer. “Hopefully, redistricting is not a predictor of things to come,” said Commissioner and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who sat on the redistricting committee. “I know none of us want to think our thinking would be colored by who put [the map] out” but in the redistricting process, once a name was on a map, “it inadvertently increased the partisanship of the redistricting process.” To that, Witwer suggested having maps drawn by multiple commissioners that would encourage people from different parties to work together (a suggestion that came too late with the redistricting committee). In the end, the commission decided to ask the staff to assign numbers to the maps and keep track of who drew them.
While most commission meetings are scheduled on Mondays, the next meeting, on May 31, is being held on a Tuesday to avoid the Memorial Day holiday. That also will happen in July with the July 4th holiday.