Amendments Y and Z are separate measures proposing changes to the Colorado Constitution, but they should be considered as a matched set.
If passed, the first would create a commission to redraw the state’s congressional boundaries after each census; the other would do the same for our state legislative districts.
There are many reasons to approve both, not the least of which is the story of how they arrived on the ballot.
Earlier this year, two groups that seemed to share little common ground except their concerns about whether the opposition was planning to unfairly draw district lines – Fair Districts Colorado and People Not Politicians – decided to drop their distinct efforts to put measures on the ballot and instead hammer out a pair of compromise amendments to accomplish the same goals.
As things stand now, the Colorado Legislature draws our congressional maps, and they must be approved by an 11-member panel of people appointed by the governor, the chief justice of the state supreme court and legislative leaders. Because one party can dominate the panel, partisanship can taint the process and gerrymandered maps drawn to unfairly favor the party in power can result. That can undercut voter confidence and curtail participation in elections.
La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, who supports the amendments, has summed up the problem as well as anybody we have heard: “Gerrymandering allows politicians to choose their voters rather than voters choosing the politicians,” she said recently.
With the Y and Z proposals, 12-member commissions would be seated to draw the congressional and state maps, with each composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated voters. To approve a new map, a supermajority of eight commission members – including two of the unaffiliated voters – would have to vote in favor of it.
The amendment authors have done their homework, as the application and approval process for commission members is loaded with safeguards designed to discourage undo influence by people close to the process and encourage diversity and fair geographic representation. All workings of the commissions will be subject to Colorado’s open records laws.
At a time when court cases over charges of gerrymandering have nearly paralyzed the voting process in several states – and when the U.S. Supreme Court has offered no solutions (see Wisconsin and Maryland) by sending cases involving political map-drawing back to the lower courts – the Y and Z effort looks like a good way to keep district boundary decisions out of the hands of judges and in the hands of citizens.
Once again, we see an opportunity for Colorado to be a leader in implementing a compromise that does much more to defuse our current atmosphere of partisan politics than inflame it. The state legislature voted unanimously to put these amendments on the ballot and was right to do so.
In a year when we are facing more than a dozen ballot propositions and proposed amendments to the Colorado Constitution, is it possible to have a no-brainer on the ballot?
If so, then we think this pair qualifies.
We vote Yes on Amendment Y and Amendment Z.