Colorado’s Democratic governor has thrown his weight behind two statewide ballot measures that, if passed by voters in November, would change how political lines are drawn for state legislative and congressional seats and give unaffiliated voters more of a voice in the process. “This is normally a full-contact sport,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said on May 16, a reference to Colorado’s partisan battles over redistricting in past decades that have left Republicans and Democrats embittered about how the legislative maps are created. The same might also have been said about initial proposals to change the way Colorado draws its political maps, which began with crossed swords and ended in a handshake.
The proposal Hickenlooper is backing, known as Fair Maps Colorado, is the culmination of a months-long dogfight between different civic and political groups, much behind-the-scenes drama, and an eventual grand bargain. The next U.S. Census is in 2020, and because of Colorado’s booming population, the state could get an eighth congressional seat. Input from voters in this swing state on redistricting reform comes as the U.S. Supreme Court decides a case about whether gerrymandering for partisan gain is unconstitutional and several other states try to tackle it in their own ways.
In Colorado, initially, two groups emerged to propose warring ballot measures over how best Colorado should draw its political districts. One group called itself Fair Districts Colorado, which counted conservative political operatives in its ranks. Another called itself People Not Politicians, a coalition that included progressive groups, voting rights groups and minority groups.