As of 2018, Colorado uses an independent commission to draw congressional districts, and a similar independent commission to draw state legislative districts. The application process for commissioner spots closed on Nov. 10, 2021.
1050 qualified applicants were randomly selected for each commission (Jan. 18, 2021 for congressional districts, Jan. 25, 2021 for state legislative districts); a panel of retired judges will then draw from this selection to create a pool of 150 nominees for each commission (Feb. 1, 2021 for congressional districts, Feb. 15, 2021 for state legislative districts). The judges’ panel randomly chooses 6 commissioners for each commission (Feb. 1, 2021 for congressional districts, Feb. 15, 2021 for state legislative districts). By Feb. 16, 2021, the four legislative leaders each put forward further applicants; the judges’ panel then chooses the final 6 commissioners (Mar. 1, 2021 for congressional districts, Mar. 16, 2021 for state legislative districts).
Colorado’s congressional and state legislative lines are drawn by two distinct 12-member independent commissions, each chosen in similar fashion, and created by ballot initiative in 2018. (The initiative for congressional maps is here; the initiative for state legislative maps is here.) Commissioners must have been registered with the same party (or no party) for five years and must have voted in the last two general elections. Commissioners may not have been, within five years of appointment, a candidate for the legislative office whose maps are drawn by the commission, and they may not have been, within three years of appointment, paid by one of those legislators or their campaigns. Commissioners may also not have been, within three years of appointment, elected officials, party employees, or lobbyists. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.1(2), 47(2)]
An initial pool of qualified applicants — 300 Democrats, 300 Republicans, and 450 unaffiliated with any party — is randomly selected from all applications submitted. (The 2020 pool for the congressional commission is here; the pool for the state legislative commission is here.) With an eye to analytical skills, impartiality, the ability to promote consensus, and experience in actively engaging Colorado civil society, a multipartisan panel of recently retired state appellate judges choose 50 Democrats, 50 Republicans, and 50 who are unaffiliated with any party to be nominees for each commission. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.1, 47]
The judges’ panel then randomly chooses 2 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 2 who are unaffiliated; each random choice must represent a different congressional district. The four legislative leaders (majority and minority leader in each legislative house) then each put forward ten further applicants from the partisan nomination pools. The judges’ panel selects one more commissioner from each of these four pools of ten, and two more commissioners unaffiliated with any party, attempting to ensure that the commission as a whole reflects racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic diversity. Each final commission thus has 12 members (4 Democrats, 4 Republicans, 4 unaffiliated). [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.1, 47] The first six commissioners for the 2020 congressional commission are here.
For each commission, nonpartisan staff prepare an initial plan subject to public hearings, which the commission may modify. Final maps must be passed with the vote of 8 commissioners, including 2 of the unaffiliated commissioners. If the commission cannot agree on a plan, nonpartisan staff must prepare at least three plans for commission consideration; if the commission does not agree on any of the plans prepared by nonpartisan staff or its own plan, the “third” designated nonpartisan staff plan will govern. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.2(2), 44.4, 48(2), 48.2]
The Colorado Supreme Court will automatically review any map; the Court must make its decision on the congressional map by Nov. 1, 2021 and the state legislative map by Nov. 15, 2021. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.5, 48.3]
The nonpartisan staff for each commission must produce initial plans 30-45 days after census data are available; public hearings must be complete by July 7, 2021 for the congressional plan and July 21, 2021 for the state legislative plan. Final maps are due by Sept. 1, 2021 for the congressional plan and Sept. 15, 2021 for the state legislative plan. Each commission has the authority to adjust the above deadlines if conditions beyond the commission’s control (like a delay in census data) render adjustment necessary. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.4, 48(2)]
Candidates must file for congressional and state legislative primary elections by Mar. 15, 2022. [Colo. Rev. Stat. § 1-4-801(5)]
The Colorado constitution seems to prohibit redrawing district lines mid-decade, before the next Census, by tying redistricting activity to the year following the year of the decennial census. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44(3)(d), 46(3)(d)]
The commission must, “to the maximum extent practicable,” provide opportunities for public testimony, including at least three hearings in each congressional district, and publication requirements for relevant comments. The final plans must also be accompanied by reports explaining how the plan reflects the balance of political competitiveness with other state criteria [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.2(3), 44.3(3)(c), 44.4, 48(3), 48.1(3)(c), 48.2]
Meetings and other input will be collected here.
Like all states, Colorado must comply with constitutional equal population requirements. State law further provides that the commission must make a good-faith effort to achieve “precise mathematical population equality” for congressional districts, justifying each variance; and that the commission must make a good-faith effort to achieve “mathematical population equality” for state legislative districts, with no more than 5% deviation between most populous and least populous district. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.3(1)(a), 48.1(1)(a)] Colorado will adjust census data for both congressional and state legislative districts in order to count incarcerated individuals at their legal residence (usually the last known residence before incarceration). [Colo. Rev. Stat. § 2-2-901 – 902]
Colorado must also, like all states, abide by the Voting Rights Act and constitutional rules on race. Maps may further not be drawn for the purpose of or with the result of diluting the electoral influence of a racial or language minority group. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44.3(4)(b), 48.1(4)(b)]
The Colorado constitution further requires that districts be contiguous. The districts must also preserve commmunities of interest and whole political subdivisions (like counties, cities, and towns) “as much as is reasonably possible”; for state legislative districts, if the commission divides a political subdivision, it should minimize the number of times that any individual political subdivision is divided. Districts must also be “as compact as is reasonably possible,” and must, “to the extent possible, maximize the number of politically competitive districts,” defined as having the reasonable potential for the elected representative’s party affiliation to change at least once before the next census. No map may be drawn for the purpose of protecting an incumbent or candidate. [Colo. Const. art. V, §§ 44(3)(b), 44.3, 46(3)(b), 48.1]
Colorado’s legislature failed to enact a congressional plan. On Nov. 10, 2011, a state court enacted a map aligned with the interest of Colorado Democrats, which was then approved by the state Supreme Court. [Hall v. Moreno, 270 P.3d 961 (Colo. 2012)]
For state legislative districts, the state’s commission enacted a plan on Sept. 19, 2011; that plan was struck down by the state Supreme Court as insufficiently attuned to county boundaries. The commission redrew state legislative plans on Nov. 29, 2011, and those plans were approved by the state Supreme Court. [In re Reapportionment of Colo. General Assembly, 332 P.3d 108 (Colo. 2011)]
Colorado’s legislature failed to enact a congressional plan. On Jan. 25, 2002, a state court enacted a map based largely on the Republican leadership’s plan, which was then approved by the state Supreme Court. The legislature attempted to enact a subsequent congressional plan, but this plan was struck down by the state Supreme Court, on the grounds that the state constitution allows only one opportunity per decade, successful or unsuccessful, to redraw district lines. [People ex rel. Salazar v. Davidson , 79 P.3d 1221 (Colo. 2003); Beauprez v. Avalos, 42 P.3d 642 (Colo. 2002)]
For state legislative districts, the state’s commission enacted a plan struck down by the state Supreme Court, largely on equal population and county integrity grounds. The commission redrew state legislative plans on Feb. 7, 2002, and those plans were approved by the state Supreme Court. [In re Reapportionment of Colo. General Assembly, 46 P.3d 1083 (Colo. 2002); In re Reapportionment of Colo. General Assembly, 45 P.3d 1237 (Colo. 2002)]