DENVER – Colorado voters this November will be asked to vote on two ballot measures that would overhaul the state’s redistricting process and seek to prevent partisan gerrymandering.
Supporters say the measures could serve as a national model at a time when gerrymandering – the practice of drawing political district boundaries to favor a particular party at the ballot box – is under heightened scrutiny across the country.
Top lawmakers on Wednesday signed the referred measures in an afternoon ceremony, just more than a week after they passed both chambers unanimously.
Kent Thiry, a political independent who previously backed successful campaigns to open state primaries to unaffiliated voters, called the proposed reforms “a big step towards protecting one of the crown jewels of any state, which is the fairness and credibility of their elections.”
Electoral maps have come under fire in states across the country in recent years. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state’s Congressional maps earlier this year, after finding that they were illegally skewed toward Republicans. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin, and maps in a number of other states face legal challenges as well.
Colorado has a troubled history of its own. Courts have stepped in to choose the district maps three of the last four redistricting cycles. And both parties have been accused of gerrymandering maps to their benefit.
“The framers didn’t intend this,” Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said of the “full-contact sport” that redistricting has become for the two parties. Maps are redrawn every 10 years after the census.
An analysis by The Associated Press found Colorado’s current district maps benefit Democrats. They won a majority of state House seats in 2016 despite winning fewer statewide votes than Republicans.
If Colorado voters approve in November, the measures would amend the state constitution to explicitly prohibit gerrymandering. They would establish new criteria for map drawers to promote competitive elections, while seeking to keep intact communities of interest, such as racial or ethnic groups, as well as political subdivisions, such as cities and counties.
Non-partisan legislative staff would be tasked with drawing the initial maps, which would then be subject to approval by an independent commission. The changes would put more independents on the commission, diluting the influence of the two major parties.