Every 10 years, Colorado must redraw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative district lines to ensure equal population. And every 10 years, Republicans and Democrats wind up in a costly court battle asking a judge to settle their differences.
Our process for drawing maps is broken. Amendments Y&Z would replace that broken process with a new 12-member commission that assures equal representation to Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.
I’ve been a part of both processes, and here’s what I know from experience:
The current system is broken.
Compromise and fairness are discouraged because whichever party has the majority coerces its members to vote for the set of maps that maximizes their party’s political advantage.
Often one party will simply refuse to participate because they believe they can gain a political advantage by arguing before a judge rather than by negotiating a middle-ground with the other party.
Whether Republicans or Democrats have the advantage, redistricting is a nakedly political process.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Amendments Y & Z are complex – for good reason.
Because Democrats and Republicans don’t trust each other, Y&Z contain safeguards to prevent the other party from manipulating the process. Those safeguards include mandating that independent voters have just as much voice as Republicans or Democrats.
Safeguards also prevent political parties from stacking the deck by having their own partisans re-register as independents to gain an unfair advantage. Instead, any Colorado citizen can apply to serve on the commission. Elected officials and lobbyists are prohibited from serving. After applicants are screened to ensure their political affiliation is sincere, commission members are chosen by random selection until an equal number are Democrats, Republicans and independents are appointed.
With Y&Z, maps can only be approved with a super majority that includes at least two independents. To guard against backroom deals by politicians, all maps are drawn by nonpartisan legislative staffers, rather than those paid by political parties. Maps must be available for public review for at least 72 hours before a vote, except by unanimous agreement.
Y&Z are fair.
Because of this complicated process, because independent voters have an equal voice, and because a super-majority is required to approve a final map, Y&Z create a much more fair, transparent process.
A single political party can no longer stand as a roadblock for the sole purpose of asking a judge to select its preferred map.
A single political party can no longer pass its preferred map with a simple majority and against the protests of the other party and independent voters.
District boundaries must comply with fair and neutral criteria – for example not splitting counties, cities or communities of interest, such as those that have common cultural or economic interests. Preserving these criteria is particularly important to protect the ability of rural Colorado to elect its own representatives.
Once those criteria are satisfied and districts are drawn to be compact, rather than gerrymandered, the commission has flexibility to draw politically competitive districts that could be won by either party or by an independent candidate.
Some argue that Y&Z do not adequately accommodate minor parties. Keep in mind, however, that minor parties are shut out of the current process. The hard truth is that fewer than 60,000 active voters are registered with all of Colorado’s minor parties. However, any voter can follow the proceedings and actively participate.
Amendments Y&Z were created through give-and-take discussions motivated by the fact that our current process is a mess. However, Y&Z represent an obvious improvement on the existing system which actually discourages reasonable compromise.
Amendments Y&Z are one issue on November’s ballot on which unaffiliated, Democrat and Republican voters can agree.