As communities grow, the process of redrawing voting districts is important to ensure fair elections continue across our country.
With the 2020 Census in the process of finalizing data, district lines in Weld County and Greeley are expected to see some changes this year.
Districts determine how communities are represented at local, state and federal levels. Each district is created with nearly the same number of people within it to ensure that everyone’s voice is represented equally.
Redistricting is the process in which determines how congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn, according to BallotPedia, an online encyclopedia of politics. District lines are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. census is completed.
In March, the League of Women Voters Greeley/Weld County hosted an online seminar to explain the ins and outs of redistricting and why it is beneficial to elections.
“The League of Women Voters of Colorado has worked alongside many organization including the Fair Maps Colorado Coalition to reform the state’s redistricting process in 2018, when ballot measures Y and Z were overwhelming passed,” Barbara Whinery, a member of the League of Women Voters-Greeley/Weld County, said.
The measures established an independent commission to begin the process that would include equal representations of Republicans, Democrats and Independents, as well as citizens’ input into the process of drawing congressional and district lines in Colorado, Whinery explained.
The process of redrawing districts begins with the appointment of 12 independent congressional and 12 independent legislative commissioners made up of equal members from the Republican, Democratic and Independent parties. A list of the commissioners, along with a bio for each, can be found online at www.redistricting.colorado.gov.
“This process was designed to resolve concerns and issues about redistricting that have been called gerrymandering,” Whinery said. “Both parties are guilty of drawing lines to have districts favor one party or the other in order to have a majority of voters. It was felt that the independent commission would be more transparent and create competitive districts.”
It will be the first time this process under the Y and Z measures has taken place in Colorado.
According to the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions website, the criteria for drawing legislative and congressional districts includes:
- Have equal population, as required by the U.S. Constitution, with a population deviation of no more than 5% between the most populous and the least populous district in each chamber.
- Be composed of contiguous geographic areas.
- Comply with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended.
- Be as compact as is reasonably possible.
- Maximize the number of politically competitive districts.
- Preserve whole communities of interest and whole political subdivisions, such as counties, cities and towns; however, a division of a county, city, city and county, or town is permitted where a community of interest’s legislative issues are more essential to the fair and effective representation of residents of the district.
- When the commission divides a county, city, city and county, or town, it shall minimize the number of divisions of that county, city, city and county, or town.
The commission is the one that determined that Colorado would be getting an eighth congressional district, however, the location of the district has yet to be decided upon. The seat will be up for election in 2022.
Colorado’s resident population for 2020 was 5,773,714, resulting in 744,518 people more than the resident population counted in 2010 and equaling a growth rate of 14.8%.
“The Census data is in and Colorado’s clout will grow in our nation’s capital,” Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Due to population increases, Colorado will get to elect eight members of Congress next year, one more than we currently have. Look out Washington DC, another Coloradan will soon be on the way to help make the United States of America an even better country!”
Colorado is one of six states that will add congressional districts for the 2022 election, with representatives taking office in 2023. The last time Colorado added an additional congressional seat was in 2000.
District lines are based off of population data collected by the census, said Carly Koppes, Weld County clerk and recorder.
“There isn’t any portion in the process of redrawing the lines that it is voter driven,” she said. “So, you can be a registered voter, but that doesn’t matter in this process; it’s total population.”
Once that data is collected, the county will work with the Geographical Information Services department to begin looking at how the data will affect current congressional and legislative district lines in Weld County, Koppes explained. Commissioner district boundary lines and city precincts will also be assessed.
The entire process typically takes 60 to 90 days to process all of the information, Koppes said. There will also an opportunity for the public to submit feedback, thoughts and their own maps to the county for consideration once the process gets started.
“My team and the elections, we make all the maps and we usually come up with three to five maps,” Koppes said. “And then we present (the maps) to the commissioners. Per statute, there is a public comment period for 30 days. They will post the public hearing, and there will be 30 days for public comments.”
Once prepared, maps will be posted in the commissioners’ building, in the clerk and recorder building as well as online.
However, due to the pandemic, the data collected for the Census 2020 will not be released until late September or later in the year, making the completion of the redistricting process nearly impossible by the constitutional deadlines.
“It’s going to be very challenging, and we are going to be looking at quite a bit of timeline changes for 2022,” Koppes said. “As of right now the census data has been polled, but will not readily available to the actual commission of each state until Sept. 30.
“It’s going to be a very interesting timeframe for everybody in this redistricting world,” she added.
Anissa Hollingshead, Greeley city clerk, explained how the process of redistricting works on the city side.
“At the city level, what we are doing is very much going to rely heavily upon what happens at the state and county levels,” she said. “Our provisions for ward boundary adjustments are driven out of our city charter as well as city code.”
Currently, the charter dictates that Greeley has four wards and two at-large council seats. Wards must be “compact and continuous” and have an equal number of residents in each ward.
As with the county districts, the city looks at the population numbers, not voter numbers.
“Our starting place is making sure we are aligning with any existing boundaries for congressional districts, precinct boundaries and others,” Hollingshead said. “We don’t want to be splitting those precincts either, and we want to be in congruence with that.”
Once those districts are confirmed, Hollingshead and her team can begin their work.
Hollingshead’s office works with the Community Development Department to gather data, analyze city population trend, look at where the city is growing, where different communities of interest might lie across the city as well as other aspects to take into consideration in determining where boundaries should be set or adjusted.
“As a general rule of thumb, the city of Greeley has used about a 7% variance measure,” Hollingshead said. “So anytime that our wards have a variance in population of more than 7%, it’s an appropriate time for us to look at do we need to make an adjustment to those ward boundaries.”
Under the city’s code and charter, Hollingshead can look at boundary lines every four years, however, with the census providing such robust data, the city prefers to wait until that data is available before making any changes.
“As we look at that, we are seeing very clearly that there are some pretty big variances in our ward population numbers right now,” Hollingshead said. “So we know that it’s a good time.”
Again, with the pandemic causing a lag in the release of the official census data, Hollingshead’s timeline is up in the air right now.
“Very much as Carly talked about those timelines being in flux this year, we want to make sure that that process has a full opportunity to play out at the state and county level,” she explained. “And that we’ve got that good information to move forward with.”
The process to make any changes is by ordinance and will include a public hearing as well as the city council passing the ordinance.
“It’s ultimately the final determination by the city council to approve the final boundaries,” Hollingshead said. “I do anticipate that through the course of this year we will be working with the council to identify what the process is that they would like us to follow, what kind of formal citizen engagement we will use in that process and what parameters the council sees as being most important in looking at when we’re looking at those boundary adjustments.”
The city’s deadline to make any changes is 90 days before the next municipal election, which is scheduled for 2023.
For more information on the redistricting process in Weld County and the state, go to www.redistricting.colorado.gov.
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