Census Bureau Delays Could Affect Amendments Y and Z Redistricting

Census Bureau Delays Could Affect Amendments Y and Z Redistricting
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When the Judicial Selection Panel for the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions meets today, February 1, it plans to move forward with selecting six members of the bipartisan commission that will redraw the state's congressional districts, then repeat the process on February 12 to choose six members of the commission that will redraw the state's legislative districts. But the rest of the schedule is uncertain, because the U.S. Census Bureau is delaying the release of detailed population data, severely hampering major redistricting reform already under way in Colorado.

The redistricting process happens just once every ten years; this round is particularly important because Colorado is expected to add an eighth congressional seat (and one electoral vote) once the 2020 Census is finalized. This is also the first time that the process will be under the guidelines of amendments Y and Z, which over 70 percent of the state's voters approved in 2018. The amendments to the Colorado Constitution created the procedure for setting up bipartisan commissions to redraw both state and congressional districts along nonpartisan lines; each twelve-person panel is to comprise four members each from the Democratic and Republican parties, as well as four people who are not affiliated with any political party.

Thirty-nine states still give the party in power in their legislature control over redrawing the districts, opening the door to gerrymandering. When Colorado last went through redistricting in 2011, the Democratic-leaning legislature drew a map that was friendly to Democrats. But Y and Z were designed to change such partisan actions.

"Colorado would be the first state that gives unaffiliated voters an equal voice," campaign spokesman Curtis Hubbard said in 2018. "These measures grew out of initiatives that were put together by two different groups, and to be able to come up with a consensus plan launched us on a path to success."

Since over a third of Colorado voters are unaffiliated, the passage of Y and Z was not a big surprise. But this hitch in Census Bureau data definitely is.

The information was supposed to arrive by March 31, which would have given the commissions plenty of time to meet the September 1 and September 15 deadlines to redraw congressional and legislative districts, respectively. Now the data is unlikely to arrive until fall. “The [Colorado] constitution requires the commissions to submit plans to the Supreme Court in September for approval," Jessika Shipley, staff director for the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions. "If they are unable to agree on final plans for submission, the third staff plan would be sent to the court in lieu of a commission plan. That doesn't really apply here since it's not about agreement, but rather the fact that we may not get the necessary data from the Census Bureau until after the September deadlines."

The delay does not mean the intent of amendments Y and Z are nullified, however. They were voted into the Colorado Constitution, so a nonpartisan process to draw fairer districts in Colorado is still central to the effort.

“Our day-to-day operations won't change in the near term," Shipley continues. "We are focused on the selection process for the two commissions, and we will be doing that through the end of March. Once all of the commissioners are chosen, we will spend some time helping them get organized by adopting rules and procedures and then offering as much training as they would like to have. The big change will come in the late-April to mid-May time frame, when, absent the delay, we would be drafting preliminary plans for the commissions to consider, and in the summer, when we would have been taking the plan around the state for public input."

The commission will be exploring options for extending the deadlines listed in the state Constitution. "There is a lot of uncertainty at the federal level right now," says Shipley, "and we won't know the best course forward for a few more months.”

In the meantime, the panel will be selecting commission members from interested citizens who applied this fall — and if you're interested, you can attend the meetings in the Old State Library (Room 271) in the Colorado State Capitol or watch them virtually. The first meeting starts at 2 p.m. today; find out more here. And in the meantime, you can try drawing new districts yourself using the tools on this website.

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