Voters on the edge: How the newly proposed congressional map isolates pieces of Eagle County
Local officials and residents say the Western Slope or, at the very least, Eagle County should have been kept whole in redistricting
Eagle County officials, residents and local politicians say the state’s proposed congressional map does not maintain the integrity of local “communities of interest,” lumping most of the county in with the Front Range.
The proposed redistricting of Colorado’s eight congressional districts puts most of the Eagle Valley in the 2nd Congressional District, leaving Dotsero and a few other random slivers isolated in the 3rd Congressional District with El Jebel and Basalt in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Previously, the Eagle Valley was more evenly split between the 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts with the boundary falling in the Avon/EagleVail area.
This time around, many local officials and residents were hoping the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions would keep the Western Slope region — or at least the county — together to promote effective representation on the region’s shared political priorities.
“We rely greatly on our representatives to hear our united voice as it relates to the issues that Eagle County faces, and so I think it would be great for Eagle County to have that united representation,” Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Regina O’Brien said.
The proposed map was approved by the Colorado Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission on Tuesday and must now go before the Colorado Supreme Court for final approval.
The impact of ‘sliver precincts’
O’Brien has been thinking about the new map through the lens of engaging voters and conducting an election, as she is charged with doing each year.
“When we’re split between a congressional district, it increases the number of ballot styles that we need to produce and one of the things we also look at is what it will do to our precinct lines,” O’Brien said.
The most difficult part of the new proposal is a few slivers of land between Edwards and Gypsum that have been separated from nearby municipal areas, she said.
There are three such unincorporated areas — one in upper Cordillera near Edwards, another along upper Kaibab Road above the town of Eagle and a third that stretches along a portion of U.S. Highway 6 between Eagle and Gypsum, she said.
Voters in these residential areas consider themselves to be a part of the nearby towns where they go grocery shopping and send their kids to school, but under the new map, they would be effectively isolated in voting for a different member of Congress, O’Brien said.
Not only would this complicate voter education and effective representation, but it would also make the establishment of voter precincts tricky, she said.
Election results are reported by precinct. Results in these “sliver precincts,” however, would likely need to be kept off the county’s public election results website to protect ballot anonymity given an exceptionally small number of voters, she said.
When the congressional map was first released, O’Brien submitted a suggested correction that those sliver areas as well as the unincorporated area of Dotsero be placed in the 2nd Congressional District with the rest of the Eagle Valley.
“At a minimum, I think it would be very important to clean up those small areas that have been sectioned off,” she said.
Dotsero: the tail of the valley
Dotsero, an unincorporated residential area roughly 7 miles west of Gypsum, would also be separated from the rest of the county under the new map.
The area belongs with the rest of the Eagle Valley as its residents make up much of the workforce that supports the valley’s largest employers, said Norma Gurrola, neighborhood navigator for Dotsero.
The Neighborhood Navigators of Eagle County are a group of individuals assigned to represent various residential areas to “improve the well-being of individuals and families based on community-driven needs,” according to the organization’s website. They also strive to empower local Latino populations.
Gurrola said Dotsero residents have long struggled to make their voices heard as a part of the Eagle Valley community – their community.
“They feel that way with Dotsero being the tail (of the valley) that people are always forgetting about them,” Gurrola said. “In Dotsero, we always are the people that (are) forgotten.”
Being on the edge of a large district like the 3rd Congressional District, separated from the rest of the county, could increase this feeling when it comes to advocating for improvements in Dotsero.
“They get excited about hearing rumors of there’s going to be a store soon in Dotsero or a gas station and all these projects … but then it never happens,” Gurrola said. “There’s nothing.”
The most recent population estimates put the Dotsero area at a population of 899 residents, 76.6% of whom identify as Latino.
Separating Dotsero into a different district than the bulk of Eagle County, which is one-third Latino, does not maintain the area’s Latino voter block, which can also be thought of as a “community of interest,” said Alex Sánchez, executive director of Voces Unidas de las Montañas.
Keeping ‘communities of interest’ whole
The Colorado Constitution charges redistricting commissions to form districts that are contiguous, compact and equal in size, and that comply with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Districts should be politically competitive and should preserve whole communities of interest and political subdivisions such as counties, cities and towns, according to the Constitution.
Voces Unidas, a nonprofit that seeks to build social and political power among Latino populations across the Western Slope, has come out in opposition of the proposed congressional map, Sánchez said.
The organization endorsed a different map produced by the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization or CLLARO, which would maintain the integrity of the Western Slope region and ensure “fair and effective representation,” Sánchez said.
With this layout, Latino residents would make up 20-25% of each district — a significant chunk of the voter bloc whose needs would be more difficult to ignore.
“No political party, no candidate, regardless of who they are, will say, ‘Gosh. I’m going to ignore 25% of a voting bloc,’ but when you break us into fourths and eighths, you do, and that’s typically the story in the history of these valleys,” Sánchez said.
Sánchez and O’Brien aren’t the only ones not fully satisfied with the current map. The town of Gypsum, as well as a slew of other local officials and residents, wrote to the redistricting commissions to express their desires to keep the Western Slope together as a clear community of interest.
“I believe that the Western Slope should have a voice in representation without compromise from Front Range interests,” one resident said.
Western Slope towns share many more political priorities with one another than they do with large urban areas like Boulder or Denver, residents said in their comments.
“The counties of the Western Slope share interests on matters such as water, federal lands, forestry and wildfires, agriculture, environment, infrastructure, health care and outdoor recreation,” Gypsum Mayor Stephen Carver wrote in a comment on behalf of the town.
“The region is united by more than just geography. Our culture, economy, and way of life are uniting bonds,” Carver wrote. “… We deserve our own voice, as one united congressional district.”
Local politicians have also criticized the map for favoring incumbent candidates. Democratic State Sen. Kerry Donovan called it “anti-competitive” and halted fundraising in her campaign against Republican Lauren Boebert in the 3rd Congressional District. Donovan has now called upon the Colorado Supreme Court to reject the proposed map.
“The Redistricting Commission submitted maps that are a disservice to the people of Colorado and fail to follow the will of the voters,” Donovan said in a written statement Friday. “Key communities that share a common interest in water, outdoor recreation, transportation, and more are split down the middle among congressional districts, ignoring the will of the voters and preventing us to have a strong, unified voice in the halls of Congress.”
Boebert’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Redistricting requirements make the process a challenging one in any year, but the 2020 redistricting process was further complicated by late-arriving U.S. Census numbers, O’Brien said.
Given the complexity of the process, Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Reitman said there will never be maps that make everyone happy.
While he helped the town submit its comment to the redistricting commission, he said he understands that commission members are doing the best they can.
“They are required to come up with proportionality and make the math work between the different districts that are created,” Reitman said. “No matter how they do that, at some point, they will create some weird outcome that will feel very odd and convoluted and frankly somewhat nonsensical.”
“It’s going to happen somewhere, and we just happened to be the community that is getting the split this time,” he said.
Email Kelli Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org