Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions' Arvada public hearing

Gazette file Redistricting commissioners discuss suggested changes to preliminary draft maps with members from the public in July in Arvada.

Following the congressional redistricting commission’s late-night map adoption, some said the process worked well and others have called it a compromise they can live with. Some political observers said the outcome fell short of their expectations, when it comes to incumbents' likely fortunes or gaining partisan advantage for one side or another.

Meanwhile, at least two Hispanic advocacy organizations say they're planning to challenge the map, on the grounds that it dilutes minority voting rights.

Mark Gaber, an attorney specializing in redistricting litigation with the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates for civic and democratic participation, said before a full day had passed that the maps simply fail to meet the requirements of the state’s constitution.

The constitution was amended in 2018 by the overwhelming passage of Amendments Y and Z, which created the independent redistricting commission system in Colorado, first used this year.

Gaber, echoing other attorneys who specialize in redistricting and the application of voting rights laws, argues that the language used in Amendments Y and Z goes beyond the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, and requires the commission to give thorough consideration to whether minority voters are able to influence election outcomes, not just that the minority composition hits certain numbers.

“The question isn’t, ‘do we need to draw districts according to the VRA?’, they need to ask whether they meet the specific requirements in the state constitution,” Gaber said.

Gaber, who is working with the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the commissions needed to more carefully analyze election results data, including primary elections, to determine where racially polarized voting patterns are present, then design districts informed by that analysis.

“It appears commission didn’t engage with that at all,” Gaber said.

Gaber's organizations aren't alone either.

The Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization (CLLARO) voiced the same concerns Wednesday.

“This is an incredibly disappointing outcome for Colorado Latinos, communities of interest, and Colorado voters as a whole. Voters were crystal clear in 2018: communities of interest should be preserved and prioritized," a press release from the organization explained. "It’s remarkable that the Commission disregarded the will of the voters by prioritizing an arbitrary competitiveness target over communities of interest."

The group will also challenge the map when it's submitted for state supreme court review in the coming days and weeks.  

Amanda Gonzalez, the executive director of Colorado Common Cause, a progressive advocacy organization, who is also registered as a redistricting lobbyist, has been advocating for minority voting protections throughout the process and reiterated criticisms of the commission's handling of the issue.

She, like Gaber, said that without more thoroughly analyzing racially polarized voting patterns, it’s impossible to properly evaluate the map.

“Did they succeed? We don’t know because they didn’t do a full Voting Rights Act analysis,” Gonzalez said. “They didn’t talk enough about what it means to dilute minority voting power, or even as much as they talked about competitiveness, despite the constitutional requirements.”

She criticized the comments made by some commissioners who, during the vote to adopt a final map, said they wouldn’t vote for a map unless it hit certain competitiveness thresholds, saying they reflect a misunderstanding of the way the state constitution’s requirements work, and that the commissioners should have known that.

“We talked about what competitiveness means for a lot of white voters in Colorado, but to say that we just didn’t get to doing a VRA analysis, we just didn’t get to analyzing whether Hispanic and Latino voters require voting rights protections, that’s problematic.”

Gaber said he intends to submit a filing with the state supreme court on behalf of Campaign Legal Center and LULAC that will challenge the map plan, arguing that it needs to be changed in order to comply with the state constitution.

"That the Commission chose to prioritize competitiveness over communities of interest and, in the process, actively diluted minority votes, is deeply disappointing. CLLARO will continue to elevate these concerns in the redistricting process,” the organization's press release said.

Load comments