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Redistricting starts in earnest Friday

April 14, 2011

Starting Friday, Capitol lawmakers will have a new headache to deal with — redistricting.

The 5th Congressional District, which includes El Paso, Chaffee, Lake, Parker, Teller and Fremont counties, won’t be greatly affected. Neither will most other Colorado districts.

But there is one, near Denver, that will almost certainly be a battle.

Redistricting takes place every decade nationwide, after each census. Every congressional district must have the same number of residents — 718,457 — or at least as close as possible. And it’s up to the state Legislature to draw the boundaries of Colorado’s seven districts. Any district that has fewer than that number must gain some, and any district with more  loses some.

Congressional redistricting can determine which political party has control in a state for the next decade, and can even help shape the makeup of Congress. That’s why it’s often contentious.

Ten years ago, Colorado’s population had grown by so much that a new district was created. This year, that won’t happen. Additionally, most of Colorado’s districts are either solidly Democrat or solidly Republican, with no real chance of changing hands.

There are only two real swing districts—the 3rd and the 7th.

Redrawing the 3rd Congressional District is likely to be a fight, but the 7th, which encircles Denver and covers much of the metro area, is expected to be the real contest.

The 7th is the district that was created in 2001. Republican Bob Beauprez captured the district the following year, but the election was a nail-biter — he won by only 122 votes out of more than 17,000 cast.. When Beauprez left office in 2006 to run for governor, a Democrat, Ed Perlmutter, beat out a Republican challenger to win the district.

Republicans have a slightly larger presence in CD-7 than Democrats, but independents represent almost a third of the voting bloc. Perlmutter has held his seat for the past five years, and last year, he beat his Republican challenger by a healthy margin. But with a bigger voter registration advantage, Republicans would have a better chance of retaking and holding the district. Under redistricting, CD-7 must grow by about 40,000 voters.

CD-7 district borders three districts that could contribute voters. Two of them are strongly Republican and one is strongly Democratic. All told, those three districts must lose about 100,000 voters under redistricting. It’s also about the margin that Republicans have over Democrats in CD-7.

For example, CD-7 borders the strongly Republican CD-6, just to the south, which must lose almost 80,000 voters in redistricting. Republicans will naturally want to shovel more of theirs into the district, and Democrats will try to move many of those into Denver, which would easily stay Democratic even if it gets, say, 50,000 Republicans.

And CD-1, which is Denver, must gain 56,000 voters. So that’s another part of the equation.

The Legislature has until the last day of the session — May 11 — to finish the new map.

If lawmakers are not finished  by then, they would need to call a special session, which could last several weeks. If they can’t reach agreement after that, the state Supreme Court would take over and do it for them. That happened in 2001, after the last census.

Today’s meeting, which is open to the public, will be held in the old Supreme Court chambers at the state Capitol, after the Senate adjourns for the day. That will likely be late morning.

Contact the writer 476-4825.

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