While there are both costs and benefits to Colorado’s recent population boom, a couple of groups turning flips over the state’s recent growth are Democrats and Republicans who see no downside. Just released census figures show population growth has rewarded the state with one more congressional district, pushing the number to eight. But in a purple state, which party gains the advantage?
Colorado GOP Chair, Kristi Burton Brown, cheered the census data. “This is great news for Colorado and great news for Republicans,” she said. Her counterpart, former Colorado legislator, Morgan Carroll, reacted similarly. “A new congressional district means more representation for the people of Colorado and that is welcome news.”
Redistricting is exactly what it sounds like. It is creating new voting districts that align with population shifts. It’s a process that takes place every ten years following the census. All districts must be reexamined following each decennial census to ensure fairness in voting.
Colorado is among a handful of states whose population grew enough to earn an additional Congressional voting district. In fact, in the last twenty years, Colorado has been growing at a remarkable rate. In the last two decades, the state added nearly 1.5 million new residents. In the 2020 U.S. Census, Colorado’s population was estimated at 5.8 million.
Most of the state’s new citizens---approximately 91 percent---reside along the Front Range. Eight percent of the new growth was on the Western Slope. While these numbers are generally accurate, the pandemic did cause delays in gathering data as well as interference from the Trump administration. Final numbers are still being compiled.
One, among many challenges in compiling data was counting college students. Normally, this count is conducted in dormitories or nearby apartments. But with the pandemic, that was not possible. Census workers must now make sure that the scattering of college students does not result in double-counting as many of them attended college in one state but relocated to their home state when the virus settled in. Getting an accurate count of agricultural workers also presented a problem. There was also a fight caused by the Trump administration over a question on citizenship, an issue that was thought offensive by Latinos who charged the question was included to diminish the voting power of Hispanic Americans.
Final data is not expected until the end of September. The delay could have an impact on the 2022 elections. The timeline for a redrawn Colorado, by statute, must be submitted for approval to the state Supreme Court by December 15th.
The boundaries for the new district, said former Denver City Attorney Scott Martinez, will fall to Colorado’s Independent Redistricting Commission, established in 2018. Before its establishment, the legislature was charged with outlining each district. “I drew the congressional (district) maps in 2000-01,” he said. He made sure it did not reflect any particular partisanship.
The last time Colorado added a new district was in 2000 when the Seventh Congressional District was established. It includes most of Jefferson County and parts of Adams and Arapahoe Counties and is represented by Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter.
Redistricting.Colorado.gov, the official website for the Commission, lists the names of the members who make up the commission. There are supposed to be four Democrats, four Republicans and four Unaffiliated members. Currently one seat sits empty.
With the next election not scheduled for another eighteen months, neither party has an advantage in recreating voting lines. “It’s a blank slate,” said Martinez. But the current voting boundaries include the ‘strange bedfellows,’ who often occupy politics. Colorado’s Third Congressional District, a district larger than some states, is represented by far right, gun rights proponent Lauren Boebert. It includes some of Colorado toniest zip codes and as well as some of its most modest. It hues red, blue and purple, with towns like Lamar, Aspen and Pueblo within its walls.
Over the years, said Martinez, Congressional districts have morphed into strange combinations. “We have had districts where Denver and Boulder were together, Colorado Springs and Pueblo were together,” he said. The new commission will probably not recreate anything close to that when its work is done.
Martinez predicts that the new state redistricting map will see the most shape-shifting in and around Denver where population growth was the fastest. “The boundaries in the metro area will be the biggest change,” he said. But all of the districts “will look different.”
Something else that will look different is the commission, itself. A month ago, Commission Chair Danny Moore was asked to resign. The El Paso County Republican had posted conspiracy theories about the 2020 election on Facebook. Critics who saw his postings called them both politically and culturally thoughtless.
Moore posted one rant accusing postal carriers of changing mail-in ballots to favor President Biden. He has also posted skepticism about the origins and contagiousness of the coronavirus, something he has repeatedly called the “Chinese virus.” The Colorado Springs Republican also charged that the death last summer of a demonstrator at the hands of a 9News security guard was “staged.” He defended his comments as nothing more than words designed to initiate dialogue over political correctness and that he “meant no malice against any group or person.” Eleven members of the Commission voted to remove Moore.
No replacement for Moore has been named.