Amendments Y and Z aiming to make redistricting less political | VailDaily.com | VailDaily.com

Amendments Y and Z aiming to make redistricting less political

Frances Hohl
Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor's note: This is one in a series of articles about the 13 statewide measures on this year's ballot. Find more election coverage at http://www.vaildaily.com/election.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado may have found a way to make drawing up congressional and legislative districts almost non-political, and now it's up to voters to decide whether or not they want to test the theory.

Amendments Y and Z on the state ballot have earned the endorsement of Colorado's Democratic and Republican parties, and the measures aim to give Colorado independents a voice in redistricting.

The goal of the amendments is to draw up districts based on the population's commonalities and not solely on political affiliation.

Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat serving House District 26 in Routt and Eagle counties, said Y covers congressional redistricting and Z covers legislative redistricting within the state.

"My state house is probably not gerrymandered that much," said Roberts, an Eagle County assistant district attorney who co-sponsored the amendments. "Routt and Eagle have a lot in common, so there's sort of a natural fit together with the right population size for a district.

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"But you go to U.S. Congressional District 3 … Routt County is in the same congressional district as Pueblo and Grand Junction and Montrose and the San Luis Valley," Roberts said. "We don't necessarily have a lot in common with those counties. Economically, culturally, we have more in common with Larimer County, Boulder County and Summit counties. If these amendments pass, you might see Routt County grouped with a more natural fit when it comes to the U.S. Congress."

Fair Maps Colorado is the group that got the amendments on the ballot after two different political groups were trying it on their own.

"We set aside any differences we had in favor of a policy that would be good for Colorado … a model system that would really take this process out of the hands of political insiders and put it in the hands of voters," said Fair Maps Colorado spokesman Curtis Hubbard.

Currently, state legislative districts are overseen by a commission of four legislative leaders, three appointees from the governor and four appointees from the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.

Hubbard claims the current system favors political insiders, leaves out unaffiliated voters and makes a lot of districts non-competitive.

"We'll be the first state in the U.S. to give unaffiliated voters a seat at the table in redistricting measures," Hubbard said.

Amendments Y and Z propose a commission made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and four unaffiliated members, with half chosen by lottery and half chosen by a panel of retired judges.

"Any map has to be approved by a super majority of eight votes of the 12 commissioners, and that has to include two of the unaffiliated voters," Hubbard said.

Hubbard said the amendments include limits on the role of politicians and lobbyists and require public hearings in each congressional district.

Arguments against

Opponents of Amendments Y and Z argue that the measure will reduce accountability in the redistricting process because, unlike state legislators who are subject to election and campaign finance requirements, unelected commissioners would not be accountable to the voters of Colorado. 

Opponents question having the commission selection process rely on unelected retired judges to screen applicants to select half of the commission members and argue that the commission will be staffed by government employees who are not accountable to the voters. They maintain that those government staffers could end up drawing the final map if the commission cannot reach an agreement. 

Further arguments question the commission selection process, saying it is complex and may actually prevent individuals with redistricting experience and knowledge from becoming members. Opponents characterizes some of the redistricting criteria as vague and open to interpretation.

"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," notes the 2018 Colorado blue book argument against the measures. 

"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."

But according to Amendment Y and Z supporters, that's already happening.

More competitive, more responsive

Roberts said redistricting, based on populations that fit in culturally, economically and socioeconomically, will naturally make legislative and congressional districts more competitive.

"Out of seven districts in Colorado, only one of them is really competitive election to election" and that's U.S. Congressional District 6, Roberts said. "Right now, our congressman (Republican Scott Tipton) is from Cortez. He has to represent Pueblo to Grand Junction to Steamboat and a lot of different interests."

Roberts said new redistricting rules would lead to representatives who care more about their constituents than their parties.

"If an area of the state has a lot in common, they're going to want a congress person who understands their issues deeply and can advocate for them in Washington, D.C.

"I support Y and Z because once an elected official is in office, they have to represent a district that's more fairly drawn based off of economics and region and culture, not just political party," Roberts added.

For more information on Amendments Y and Z, visit fairmapscolorado.com