New U.S. Census data means Colorado’s congressional districts will change

The Colorado Statesman

The U.S. Census Bureau Wednesday released more detailed data on the changes in Colorado’s population, revealing that the number of people in El Paso County has surged past those in Denver in the past decade.

According to the report, which is based on the 2010 census, El Paso County is now at 622,263, a 20 percent spike in the last decade. Denver County is at 600,158, up by 8.2 percent since 2000. Adams and Arapahoe counties also saw double-digit increases in their population, by 21.4 percent and 17.2 percent, respectively.

On the flip side, 17 counties saw population declines. Nine are on the Eastern Plains; another five are in Southern Colorado, along the New Mexico border. The Census Bureau data also reported 50-year trends, and the data showed that Baca, Kiowa and Sedgwick counties have seen as much as half of their populations disappear since 1960.

Colorado’s Hispanic and Latino population has increased dramatically in the past decade, more than 20 percent of the state’s population identifies themselves in that group, and that’s up 41.2 percent since 2000. For all other racial groups, the population is up 11.9 percent.

Wednesday’s report contains some of the preliminary information that state legislators will use in coming up with new congressional district maps, and just in time for the first round of public forums on congressional redistricting. The Joint Select Committee on Redistricting has 10 hearings scheduled in the next three weeks, beginning this Saturday and concluding March 19 in Grand Junction.

The first two hearings will take place Saturday: at 8 a.m. at Loveland City Council chambers, and in the afternoon at 1 p.m. at Fort Morgan High School. On Monday, the committee will hold its only Denver forum, to begin at 6 p.m. in the Legislative Services Building, room A, on 14th Avenue across the street from the state Capitol. On March 3, they will be in Golden at the Jefferson County Administration Building, hearing room 1, beginning at 6 p.m. Six more hearings will come in the weeks to follow, taking the committee to Grand Junction, Pueblo, Alamosa, Boulder and Colorado Springs.

In the next few days, according to committee co-chair Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial, census data will be loaded into the Legislative Council’s congressional district mapping software, and then legislators will start looking at just how much they’ll have to move the boundaries.

Based on the census data released Wednesday, a picture is already beginning to emerge as to which districts have too many residents, and which have too few. One congressional district stands out because it may have to drop more than 10 percent of its population, or nearly 80,000 residents.

The state’s total population, according to the census data, is 5.029 million. Districts based on a nearly equal division would have 718,456 people.

According to the census data, Congressional District 6 has more than 797,000 residents. That could mean a big shift from Republican stronghold CD 6 to some of the districts surrounding it that need sizable bumps in population.

That includes CD 7 and CD 1, both currently represented by Democrats. Colorado’s newest Congressional District has only 678,410, about 40,000 short of the average. The Denver-centric CD 1 has an even larger hole to fill: at a population of 662,039, it’s about 56,417 short.

Congressional District 2, which includes Boulder, has about 15,000 more people than it should; CD 3 needs about 12,000 more; CD 4 will have to lose about 6,500; and CD 5 will also have to lose about 7,000.

The committee will use more detailed data that shows populations right down to the neighborhood block level, to draw maps that more precisely divide the districts. The committee’s draft bill and recommended map is due to the General Assembly by April 14, with hopes that lawmakers will approve them before the session ends on May 11. That would not only avoid a special session, but according to committee co-chair Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, it would be the first time since the General Assembly got that duty in 1970 that the Legislature drew the congressional maps and not left that job to the courts.

The data also will be used to redraw the state’s legislative district boundaries, a job tasked to the 11-member Colorado Reapportionment Commission. That group has not yet been appointed. Four members are to be chosen by the Senate majority and minority leaders, the Speaker of the House and House Minority Leader. Another three come from gubernatorial appointments, and the last four are to be named by the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court by May 5.