Amendment Z establishes a new process for state legislative redistricting. Amendment Z would create the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission to amend and approve state legislative district maps drawn by nonpartisan legislative staff.

The IRLC would replace the Colorado Reapportionment Commission and would consist of an equal number of members from each of the state's two largest political parties and unaffiliated voters.

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Amendment Z would establish a process for selecting ILRC commissioners, create new requirements for transparency and ethics, and establish a procedure for judicial review of commission maps.

Amendment Z would expand and prioritize the criteria the commission must use for adopting state legislative district maps. Maps cannot be drawn for the purpose of protecting incumbents, candidates, or political parties.

The drawing of legislative district maps can be politically charged. The state Legislative Council ballot analysis of Amendment Z clearly explains the process, minus politics.

The analysis is lengthy, and detailed, so get comfortable. Or you can read a summarized version below.

Background

Redistricting

Congressional and state legislative maps are redrawn every ten years, after the U.S. Census is conducted. After accounting for population changes and shifts, maps for the state legislature’s 35 senate districts and 65 house districts are drawn to nearly equal populations, as required by the Colorado Constitution. The process is known as redistricting.

Legislative redistricting process in Colorado

Since voters approved its creation in 1974, the Colorado Reapportionment Commission (reapportionment commission) has convened after each U.S. Census to draw new state legislative district maps. The reapportionment commission consists of 11 members appointed by legislative leaders, the Governor, and the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. Up to 6 of the 11 members may be affiliated with the same political party.

The state legislature provides the reapportionment commission with nonpartisan staff support. The reapportionment commission is required to draft preliminary maps for state senate and house districts and hold public hearings on the maps throughout the state. Its final maps must have the support of a simple majority of commissioners, and they are submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court for approval. Amendment Z replaces the reapportionment commission with the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission (commission), which is charged with drawing the state’s legislative districts.

The new commission must have 12 members, 4 from the state’s largest political party, which is currently the Democratic Party, four from the state’s second largest political party, which is currently the Republican Party, and four who are not affiliated with any political party. These members are appointed from a pool of applicants, who have to meet several eligibility criteria.

Application and appointment process

Applicants must be registered voters who have voted in the two previous general elections. They must have been affiliated with the same party, or not affiliated with a party, for the last five consecutive years.

Applicants cannot have run for state legislature in the last five years. Amendment Z excludes applicants who, in the last three years, were lobbyists, elected public officials, party officials above precinct level, and people who were paid by members or candidates of the state legislature.

A panel of three recently retired judges from the Colorado Supreme Court or Colorado Court of Appeals will facilitate the selection of commissioners. The judges’ panel cannot have a majority of members who belong to one political party. The panel’s decisions must be unanimous. The panel will randomly select a pool of 1,050 commission candidates, then will narrow the pool to 150, based on applicants’ experience, skills and impartiality.

Commission operations

Commissioners will be subject to open meeting laws. The commission’s staff will come from nonpartisan legislative committees. There will be prohibitions on nonpartisan communications outside of public meetings, and staff will be prohibited from communicating with outside parties. A commissioner who communicates with outside parties will be removed from the commission.

Criteria for drawing legislative maps

District legislative maps must be drawn to meet U.S. and Colorado Constitutional requirements, as well as those of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Current Colorado law sets out additional requirements, including that communities of interest be preserved where possible.

Amendment Z prioritizes the preservation of communities of interest and certain political subdivisions. It limits the splitting of towns, cities and counties. Amendment Z would maintain current state law that requires districts to be contiguous and as compact as possible.

Amendment Z requires that the number of districts it draws are maximized to be politically competitive. The measure establishes a definition for competitiveness that there is a “reasonable potential for the party affiliation of the district's representative to change at 20 least once over the decade.”

Arguments For

1) Amendment Z limits the role of partisan politics in the legislative redistricting process. Through the commissioner selection process, checks and balances are in place to ensure no one political party controls the commission. Applicants must be qualified to serve on the commission and, unlike the current reapportionment commission, lobbyists and politicians are prohibited from serving. The selection process limits the appointment power of party leaders by relying on retired judges and random selection. Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters must be appointed to the commission in equal numbers. Additionally, nonpartisan legislative staff draw the district maps, and each 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. Legislative redistricting is conducted by a more independent commission than currently exists, with safeguards against undue influence in the preparation and adoption of maps. 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 maps that protect incumbents, candidates, or political parties, or maps that dilute the electoral influence of racial or ethnic minorities.

Arguments Against

1) Amendment Z reduces accountability in the redistricting process. The selection process the measure proposes will result in a group of commissioners who are not only not elected, but are not even accountable to elected officials. This 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 maps if the commission cannot agree. Legislative staff may have a vested interest in the outcome of legislative elections that could bias their work drawing district maps.

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 maps, since many critical votes require their support. The resulting maps 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.

Estimate of Fiscal Impact

State revenue. Beginning in FY 2020-21, Amendment Z may minimally increase Secretary of State cash fund revenue from fines collected from lobbyists who fail to disclose the required information.

State expenditures. Overall, Amendment Z increases state expenditures to fund the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission by $252,065 in FY 2020-21, and decreases state expenditures by $65,977 in FY 2021-22, as compared with the expenses for the current Reapportionment Commission.