The bipartisan push to reform the redistricting and reapportionment processes in Colorado is a struggle for the political heart and soul of our state. Redistricting and reapportionment are the procedures for redrawing the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts every 10 years to reflect population changes identified in the Census.
All around the country, and in Colorado too, the system has been badly abused by party insiders. In both 2003 and 2011, Colorado’s existing procedures for redistricting and reapportionment were dominated by partisan political appointees, resulting in bitterly divided and partisan affairs that lacked transparency, protected incumbent lawmakers, and resulted in a record low number of competitive congressional and legislative seats in a state that is near-evenly divided.
The chief defect in the current system is a lack of safeguards to prevent political gerrymandering – or the drawing of legislative and congressional districts for the sole purpose of protecting a given party or a specific incumbent. Gerrymandering is a prime mover of polarization in our politics, and polarization fuels the discord and dysfunction that predominates our political landscapes. When party bosses pick their own voters, it is the political parties that win. Allowing politicians to manipulate the drawing of their own legislative districts is a conflict of interest that fundamentally undermines representative government and, more practically, the fundamental ability for the voters to have a real voice in choosing their elected leaders.
When party nominees are granted seats so safe that they only need votes from their own party to win a general election, the path to political office begins and ends during the party nomination phase, where hardline voices overwhelmingly prevail. This leaves legislative institutions populated by hardline voices representing hardline constituencies. Therefore, in gerrymandered districts, elected representatives are effectively representatives of their political party first, foremost, and always.