A slice of the redistricting story

Posted on January 8, 2016

Sometimes the best way to talk about wonky public policy issues is over drinks. Last night, we did just that at our first informational happy hour of the New Year. Participants learned about redistricting, an issue that has been in the spotlight both nationally and in Colorado. Here are a few questions that came up, along with some short answers. We started off with an easy one ;)

What makes a redistricting system just and fair?
One of the baseline concerns advocates have with redistricting systems around the country is that lawmakers often draw their own district lines, in essence choosing their own voters. So, step one is to create a process to redraw district lines that excludes the lawmakers themselves. Check out this list of redistricting principles that Common Cause and 16 civil rights and democracy organizations created for more: Redistricting Principles for a More Perfect Union.

Who is behind the latest attack on fair representation?
The short answer is Edward Blum, the Director of the Project on Fair Representation. This topic came up while discussing the US Supreme Court case Evenwel v. Abbott. In brief, if the plaintiffs are successful in Evenwel, children, non-citizen residents, and eligible voters who aren’t registered may no longer be considered persons when redrawing district lines every ten years. Instead of drawing lines based on population like we do now, only the number of voters would be included. There are significant problems with making this change.  Fun fact:  the guy (Edward Blum) behind this case also helped gut the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

How does Colorado approach redistricting?
Officially, we have two ways we draw district lines. The state legislature is tasked with drawing the federal congressional district lines; a reapportionment commission is appointed to draw the state legislative lines.  Now, whether or not these processes work is a different story.  In 2011, the General Assembly couldn’t agree on congressional maps, so the court had to step in and choose from the plans drafted by the Democratic and Republican parties (the district court chose, and the Colorado Supreme Court upheld, the maps drawn by the Democrats).  The Reapportionment Commission, in contrast, did get their job done, but the Colorado Supreme Court rejected it. When the commission came back with a different map it was approved by the court, but, like the congressional lines, viewed as a win for Democrats.

In Colorado, ballot language has been filed to have a single commission draw the lines for both congressional and legislative districts.  While the proponents argue that the measure would take the politics out of the process by creating an independent commission process, the language as drafted would do the opposite.  

Learn more about redistricting in the links included here, and please stay tuned for more wonky conversations over drinks soon!

Office: Colorado Common Cause

Tags: Redistricting

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