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Voter Guide 2018: Amendment Y: Congressional Redistricting

Amendment Y proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to create an Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission, establish a process for selecting commissioners, set new ethics and transparency requirements and establish procedures for judicial review of ICRC maps, and establish and prioritize the criteria the commission must use for adopting the state's U.S. congressional district maps.

Amendment Y proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:

  • Create an Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission. (Note: Amendment Y pertains to CONGRESSIONAL redistricting. Amendment Z, also on the ballot, pertains to STATE LEGISLATIVE redistricting.) The ICRC would amend and approve congressional district maps drawn by nonpartisan legislative staff
  • Establish a process for selecting commissioners, set new ethics and transparency requirements and establish procedures for judicial review of ICRC maps
  • Establish and prioritize the criteria the commission must use for adopting the state’s U.S. congressional district maps

RELATED | Voter Guide 2018: Everything you need to know about the upcoming Colorado election

The mechanisms and processes to create the ICRC, define its operations and establish its map-making criteria are detailed and complex. The Legislative Council has released a thorough analysis.

Currently, the state legislature redraws congressional district maps after the U.S. Census is conducted every 10 years. Amendment Y would transfer the authority to draw the maps to the ICRC.

Under Amendment Y, the ICRC would have 12 appointed commissioners – four members from each of the two largest political parties (currently Democratic and Republican) -- and four members who are unaffiliated voters, in the interest of creating fair and equitable congressional district maps.

Application and appointment process

Amendment Y sets minimum requirement for applicants. An applicant must be a registered voter who has voted in the two previous Colorado elections. They have to have been a member of the same party, or have been unaffiliated, for the previous five years. Certain applicants are disqualified if they were candidates for federal office, as are certain applicants who were registered lobbyists, elected public officials, elected party officials or were paid by a member of Congress in the last three years. All applications submitted will be posted on a public website. The Legislative Council analysis provides detailed information.

A panel of retired judges will help select applicants, first randomly selecting a pool of qualified 1,050 applicants, then narrowing the pool to 150. Choosing the final 12 commissioners is complex. See the Legislative Council’s analysis for detailed information.

Commission operations

The commissioners are subject to state open meeting laws. Commission staff will be selected from nonpartisan state legislative agencies. There are rules against secret communications. Violators will be removed from the commission. Lobbyists who lobby before the commission or staff must disclose any compensation and its source for public disclosure.

Criteria for drawing a congressional district map

Maps cannot be drawn to protect or favor incumbents, candidates or political parties. Congressional districts must have population equity, as required by the U.S. Constitution. Amendment Y will also abide by principles of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and prohibits the approval of a map that violates these principles.

Amendment Y sets additional criteria. The Legislative Council’s analysis states:

The commission must preserve whole political subdivisions and communities of interest as much as possible, and districts must be as compact as possible. After the consideration of these criteria, Amendment Y requires the commission to maximize the number of politically competitive districts, which are defined as having the reasonable potential for the party affiliation of the district's representative to change at least once over the decade, to the extent possible.

Map consideration and public involvement

Amendment Y requires that nonpartisan commission staff create preliminary redistricting maps. The staff must consider public comments. Public meetings will be held in each congressional district. Members of the public can submit maps and comments for consideration. At least 10 commissioners must be present at each public hearing. The hearing will be streamed online, and the commission will maintain a website for the public to submit comments and maps for consideration. The commission can adopt a final map at any time after the presentation of the first staff map. For additional rules and guidelines about public involvement, see the Legislative Council’s analysis.

Final map

The map must be made public before the commission votes on it. At least eight commissioners, including at least two unaffiliated commissioners, must approve the final map. The final map must submit it to the Colorado Supreme Court for review. If the commission fails to submit a final map, a staff map must be submitted, without amendments, to the Colorado Supreme Court for judicial review.

The Colorado Supreme Court must approve the final map. If the court finds that the commission did not follow the required criteria, it must return the map to the commission. Several deadlines will apply for submitting revised maps, but the Supreme Court must approve a congressional redistricting map by Dec. 15 of the redistricting year. See the Legislative Council’s analysis for more details.

Arguments For

The Legislative Council’s analysis provides these arguments for:

1) Amendment Y limits the role of partisan politics in the congressional redistricting process by transferring the legislature’s role to an independent commission. The measure creates a system of checks and balances to ensure that no one political party controls the commission. Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters must be appointed to the commission in equal numbers. Lobbyists and politicians are prohibited from serving on the new commission. Additionally, nonpartisan legislative staff draw the district maps, and a map's approval requires a supermajority vote of the commission, including at least two unaffiliated commissioners. These provisions encourage political compromise by keeping political parties and politicians with a vested interest in the outcome from controlling the redistricting process.

2) The measure makes the redistricting process more transparent and provides greater opportunity for public participation. Congressional redistricting is conducted by an independent commission in public meetings, with safeguards against undue influence in the preparation and adoption of maps. All Coloradans will have the opportunity to engage in the process because the commission will conduct meetings throughout the state rather than only at the State Capitol. The commission is subject to state open records and open meetings laws, and anyone paid to lobby the commission has 72 hours to disclose their lobbying activities. By requiring that map-related communications occur in public, Coloradans will be able to see exactly how the districts are drawn.

3) The measure brings structure to the redistricting process by using clear, ordered and fair criteria in the drawing of districts. By prioritizing factors such as communities of interest, city and county lines and political competitiveness, it provides specific direction to the commission about how it should evaluate proposed maps. It also prevents the adoption of a map that protects incumbents, candidates, or political parties, or a map that dilutes the electoral influence of racial or ethnic minorities. Along with these prioritized criteria, the measure prescribes a structured court review process and provides more guidance regarding the court’s role than has existed in prior redistricting cycles.

Arguments Against

The Legislative Council’s analysis provides these arguments against:

1) Amendment Y takes accountability out of the redistricting process. Unlike state legislators who are subject to election and campaign finance requirements, unelected commissioners are not accountable to the voters of Colorado. The selection process relies on unelected retired judges to screen applicants and select half of the commissioners. Further, the commission is staffed by government employees who are not accountable to the voters, and they may end up drawing the final map if the commission cannot reach an agreement.

2) The commissioner selection process outlined in the measure is complex, and half of the members are determined by random chance. This complicated and random selection process may prevent individuals with important experience and knowledge from becoming commissioners. While the goal of the random selection may be to remove politics from redistricting, unaffiliated commissioners with partisan views could still be selected, and the selection process may not result in a commission that can be impartial and promote consensus.

3) The measure outlines criteria that may be difficult to apply in an objective manner. For example, the broad definition of communities of interest is vague and open to interpretation. The measure also leaves the commission to determine what a competitive district is without specifying what factors to consider. Additionally, the four unaffiliated commissioners will have political leanings that may be difficult to discern, but that could sway how they apply the criteria and influence the final map, since many critical votes require their support. The resulting map may serve to protect certain segments of the population at the expense of others and could result in districts that make no sense to voters.

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