Preliminary legislative maps are a starting point

32 meetings planned across state over coming months

SAN LUIS VALLEY — The preliminary maps for redistricting the state legislature were unveiled last week for both the Colorado House of Representatives and the Colorado Senate. Some significant changes have been made in several districts in both bodies of the legislature.

The General Assembly, as the two legislative bodies are collectively called, consists of 35 senators in the Colorado Senate and 65 representatives in the House of Representatives. Unlike the Congressional district map where an 8th district was added due to an increase in population, the number of seats in the Colorado Senate and House have not changed.

Although these maps are preliminary and will certainly change over the coming weeks, using the 2020 election results as a guide and comparing the proposed new districts with the existing districts suggest that the proposed district lines would result in 39 Democrats and 26 Republicans being elected to the Colorado House of Representatives. Those figures reflect a loss of two seats for the Democrats but suggest that Democratic control of the House would continue. Using the same tools for analysis, the makeup of the Senate — 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans — would not change.

But, again, that is based on the map, which was released last week, which is just a preliminary map that is certain to change.

“These will never be approved by anyone,” Jessika Shipley, the legislative redistricting commission’s staff director, was quoted as saying to the commissioners on the redistricting commission. “They are merely a baseline starting point for conversations across the state.”

As was true with the staff working on the redistricting of Congressional districts, the staff charged with drawing new district boundaries were nonpartisan legislative staff, and the process for redrawing the districts was guided by specific criteria as stated in the Colorado Constitution.

Specifically, the districts must contain equal numbers of people with no more than a 5% deviation between the district with the most people and the district with the least. The district lines must also be drawn to contain contiguous geographic areas and be as compact as possible.

The district lines were to be drawn ensuring constitutionally guaranteed voting rights, including the protection of minority group voting, as well as fair and effective representation of constituents using politically neutral criteria.

They were also to be drawn to preserve whole towns, cities and counties and only allowed for dividing those towns, cities and counties if it was necessary to preserve “communities of interest,” such as shared public policy for concerns related to urban, rural or agricultural areas or concerns related to education, employment, environment, public health, transportation, water needs and supplies or issues of demonstrable regional significance.

"Community of interest" does not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.

The map was also to be drawn to maximize the number of competitive districts where the election of a specific candidate or party was not a foregone conclusion.

Applying such directed, specific criteria to redrawing a district map with numerous districts could create some new challenges, which is exactly what happened. For example, in the preliminary map for the House of Representatives, there are now at least two districts where there are two current incumbents, an issue that will have to be worked out as the process moves along.

As far as specific proposed changes to the San Luis Valley, the bottom line is that the SLV, at this point, remains intact and contained within a single district at both the Senate and House level.

What is currently called District 62, represented by Rep. Donald Valdez, a Democrat, stays largely the same. However, the district currently known as District 35, represented by Sen. Cleave Simpson, a Republican, is now labeled as District 8 and has changed substantially. As the map shows, current District 35 contains all the counties in the southern part of Colorado from the western edge of the San Luis Valley to the Kansas state line. The proposed new district stops at the eastern boundary of Las Animas County and picks up Custer, Fremont and Teller.

At this point, it is also important to remember that a total of 32 meetings will be held across the state to solicit public feedback on the legislative map, and that meeting will be conducted in Alamosa on Aug. 6.