A move to reform the way Colorado draws its state legislative and federal congressional districts has broad support from the Independence Institute to the American Civil Liberties Union. But proposed Amendments Y and Z also face “ignorance and apathy,” Jean Fredlund of League of Women Voters of Colorado said.
Fredlund and Toni Larson, LWV of Colorado president, explained the proposed amendments to Montrose League members and residents Thursday.
Under an existing amendment to the Colorado constitution, the state Legislature draws up congressional districts, with little criteria other than to make the districts equal in population.
Amendment Y would take this authority from the Legislature and give it to a brand-new Independent Congressional Districting Commission.
Amendment Z would replace the way the state legislative district map is drawn after each census. Right now, an 11-member Colorado Reapportionment Commission draws the map; this commission is made up of legislators, the governor and chief justice of the state supreme court.
Amendment Z would replace the current commission with the Independent Redistricting Commission.
Both Y and Z have significant added criteria, including the composition of the commissions, which are to be 12 members — four from each major party and four unaffiliated.
Larson and Fredlund said the selection process is complicated for a reason: to prevent partisan gerrymandering, and one party or the other stacking the deck by inserting people who aren’t truly unaffiliated.
“You don’t want any people that pretend that they’re one thing and aren’t,” Fredlund said, going on to detail the way the commissions would be selected. (See sidebar.)
Opponents contend both amendments put redistricting in the hands of unelected commissioners and that the selection process for them is so complicated it might be difficult to fill the slots.
But the current system can be controlled by politicians and political appointees, Larson said.
At least twice in the past two decades, the legislators charged with drawing up the maps have submitted them just hours before a vote is due, yet Colorado is stuck with the results for the next 10 years. Court challenges abound — which are ultimately decided by a judge, not voters.
Further, Colorado has few legislative and congressional districts that actually are competitive, Larson also noted.
“Right now we have four to seven districts in the state (depending on whether it is the House or the Senate), that are competitive. The rest of those districts, pretty much every time there’s an election, stay the same,” she said.
“We’re trying to make more competition in the district so that the election does not really happen at the primary, but it really happens at the election.”
The proposed amendments would prohibit drawing the maps in a way that protects parties and incumbents. Among multiple other provisions, diluting the voting rights of race or language minority groups also is prohibited.
“There’s a lot of transparency built into the propositions,” Larson said.
The Legislature itself supported putting Y and Z on the ballot — the measures came onto it by referral, not via petition. The bills to refer them to the ballot passed unanimously in both chambers, “almost unheard of,” Larson said.
“We have been asked, many times, what’s your opposition,” Fredlund said. “We have no organized opposition. … If you have both of the largest parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, endorsing this, as well as the Legislature, you’re doing good.”
She and Larson urged people not to be overwhelmed by the length of the ballot measures. People who do not understand a measure have the tendency to just vote no, they said, and, when in Colorado an amendment must pass by 55 percent, that’s risky.
“We do have some opposition. The opposition, I like to call apathy and ignorance,” Fredlund said.
“People frequently, as they’re going down a list of 13 state ballot measures and get to something that’s long and complicated, they don’t understand, so they vote no.
“We have to get as many people as we can to understand this and vote yes.”
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.