Here we go again.
Back in late 2015, there was a short-lived “bipartisan” [cough, cough] attempt at putting forward a redistricting initiative for the 2016 ballot. This boneheaded proposal stumbled out of the blocks and was quickly abandoned because it would have actually dis-empowered voters of color and created new legislative and congressional districts that were actually less competitive than they are now.
Many of the same people behind that effort — which was briefly known as “Initiative 55” — are back with another set of proposals to change the process of redistricting and reapportionment, and it’s still a jumbled mess. When we say that this is the same group of people, we mean that literally; one of the issue committee that supported “Initiative 55” was called “End Gerrymandering Now!” and has just been renamed “Fair Districts Colorado.”
This new redistricting/reapportionment effort includes three ballot proposals — two statutory changes and one Constitutional measure — all of which run into similar problems when you look at the details. We certainly wouldn’t argue that our current system for drawing district boundaries is in great shape, but if you don’t make the right changes in a new proposal you run the very real risk of making things worse than they are now. That’s exactly the problem with these new proposals. As Brian Eason reports for the Denver Post:
The attempt comes at a time when gerrymandering — the act of skewing district lines to favor one party or another — is under heightened scrutiny across the country. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year agreed to hear a case out of Wisconsin, in which it will be asked to decide whether partisan gerrymandering disenfranchises voters in violation of the Constitution.
Members of the coalition, which calls itself Fair Districts Colorado, hope that more competitive districts will lead to more moderate politicians, who are more accountable to voters.
Every 10 years new boundaries are drawn for state and federal legislative districts in order to account for population changes reflected in the annual U.S. Census. Exactly how this process is handled varies from state to state, but the general rationale for most groups trying to change the process is to create more competitive seats that aren’t largely decided by partisan primaries. The weird thing about this new effort from “Fair Districts Colorado” is that the measures specifically rank competitiveness at the bottom of the list of factors that should be considered when drawing new boundaries.
And just who gets to ultimately draw the new maps under these proposals? That’s the other strange part: Essentially-anonymous staff members are directed to create the new boundaries behind closed doors with no public transparency or communication with a nonpartisan redistricting commission. What could go wrong?!?
Redistricting/reapportionment is a complicated issue. With substantial revisions, perhaps the “Fair Districts Colorado” proposals could be workable solutions. As they currently stand, however, it’s more likely that they would just make things worse.