Editorial: Guarding the henhouse
Given the lengthy list of proposals and issues facing voters on the November ballot, it might be easy to overlook Amendments Y and Z. Neither has risen to the level of public debate surrounding some of the more contentious issues, but both, in our opinion, are of utmost importance to the future of fair representation in Colorado, both at the state and federal level.
Amendment Y proposes a constitutional change to Colorado’s process for federal congressional redistricting, and Amendment Z proposes a similar change to the process for state legislative redistricting.
Colorado currently has seven congressional districts, from which the state’s seven members of the U.S. House of Representative are elected. It also has 35 state senate districts and 65 state house districts, from which members of the state legislature are elected.
In both cases, these districts are redrawn every 10 years following the decennial census to reflect increases, decreases, and shifts in population. Amendments Y and Z would alter the way by which these districts are redrawn in an attempt to remove partisanship from the process.
Currently, the state legislature is responsible for redrawing the congressional districts, an arrangement which has resulted in legal challenges the past four times redistricting has occurred. Similarly, state legislative districts are redrawn by the Colorado Reapportionment Commission, with is appointed by state legislative leaders, the governor, and the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.
Under Amendments Y and Z, both processes would be removed from the purview of the state legislature and placed into the hands of independent commissions, one for congressional redistricting and one for state legislative redistricting. These commissions would be composed of 12 members each — four from the state’s largest political party, four from the state’s second-largest political party, and four with no party affiliation.
The amendments set minimum qualifications for members of both commissioners. Applicants must be registered voters who have voted in the past two general elections in Colorado. Representative from the largest and second-largest political parties must have been affiliated with the same party for the past five consecutive years. Similarly, unaffiliated representative must have been unaffiliated for the past five consecutive years.
Further, the following persons would be barred from serving on the commissions: professional registered lobbyists, elected public officials, elected political party officials above the precinct level, and certain political candidates and their employees.
In both cases, the selection process would be overseen by three-member panels comprised of the three most-recently retired members of the Colorado Supreme Court or the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Finally, both commissions would be required to consider public input on proposed redistricting maps, and final maps would require approval by at least eight members of their respective commissions, including at least two unaffiliated members, and final approval by the Colorado Supreme Court.
Voters should be aware that Amendments Y and Z, though nearly identical, are separate proposals. The former deals with congressional redistricting and the latter with state legislative redistricting.
We acknowledge that both are complicated, but in our view, both work to remove redistricting decisions from the state legislature, which might easily redraw lines so as to maximize the influence of whichever party happens to be in power at the time.
Amendment Y and Z — though complicated — de-politicize the process and ensure district lines will be drawn so as to best reflect the interests of individual communities and geographical areas.
In our view — and particularly given the hyper-partisan climate that has recently arisen in our nation — it is imperative to ensure no one political party is given this level of influence in determining voting districts. To us, retaining the status quo seems a little like hiring the fox as chief of security over the henhouse.
For these reasons, we wholeheartedly support Amendments Y and Z.