State law could redesign constituencies for county commissioners | Cronin and Loevy | Elections
Voters in El Paso County (the county seat of Colorado Springs County) are used to being governed by five Republican county commissioners.
This has been the case for almost half a century. The last Democrat to serve as El Paso County Commissioner was Stan Johnson in the early 1970s.
The reason for Republican success was gerrymandering. The five commissioners are elected from each constituency of commissioners. District lines have been drawn regularly, so that there is a majority of Republican or Republican-leaning voters in each of the five districts.
Sitting Republican county commissioners have been given the power to redraw district commissioner lines after each decennial census in the United States. Our Republican county commissioners naturally did the line drawing again to favor the GOP.
Sometimes Democrats get more than 40% of the vote from both parties in El Paso County elections, but this Republican district route was politically designed so that Democrats would not be elected as county commissioner.
This could change in the near future.
Majorities of the Democratic Party in both houses of the Colorado state legislature recently passed a bill to weaken the gerrymandering of El Paso County commissioner districts in favor of Republicans. The bill also applies to two other counties. Democratic Governor Jared Polis signed the bill. One of the bill’s main sponsors was Senator Pete Lee, also a Democrat.
A major outcome of this anti-gerrymandering law could be the election of one and possibly as many Democrats as the El Paso County commissioners. Republicans will likely retain majority control of the county commissioners council, but the GOP would no longer have the council to itself.
The new County Commissioners Redistribution Act, introduced as HB21-1047, is long and complex. He goes into full details on how the redistribution will be undertaken in El Paso County, Arapahoe and Weld Counties. It sets up a County Redistribution Commission, much like the Redistribution Commissions that are now redesigning state legislative districts and United States House of Representatives districts for the entire state of Colorado.
At least three proposed redistribution plans will be prepared by staff or an advisory committee. These maps will be the subject of public hearings by the County-wide Redistribution Commission. Citizens will be allowed to testify at hearings about which cards to approve and why.
More importantly, this new state-enacted redistribution law requires that the proposed maps maximize the number of “competitive districts”.
This means that the proposed districts will be divided into three categories. The first category will be Sure Democrat, where the vote in the district averages 55% or more Democrats and a Democrat will almost always win elections. The second category will be Safe Republican, where the vote in the district averages 55% or more Republican and one Republican will almost always win the election. The third category will be that of competitive districts. These range from 45% Democrats to 55% Democrats and will be able to elect either a Republican or a Democrat in the election.
Competitive districts are sometimes referred to as swing districts, swing seats, or battlefield districts. They can move from one political party to another from one election to the next. They are prized by opponents of gerrymandering because a real choice is offered to voters and there is a real party competition between Democrats and Republicans to win.
A secure Democratic County Commissioner seat in El Paso County could be created in Manitou Springs, Old Colorado City, downtown, Old North End and adjacent areas. These sections of the county have been known to vote strongly Democrats.
A competitive headquarters could be built from southeast Colorado Springs plus Security and Widefield.
The other three county commissioner seats would be northern Colorado Springs, Monument, Lake Palmer, Black Forest, Falcon, and the Eastern Plains portion of El Paso County. The three seats would clearly qualify as strong Republicans.
Having one or two Democrats as El Paso County commissioners could change the atmosphere at county commissioner meetings. There could be more emphasis on social programs, such as public funding for affordable housing and more services for the homeless. A voice (or two) would be raised in the name of more effort on climate change initiatives or the preservation of more open spaces and public parks.
There are a number of prohibitions in the new law on the establishment of county commissioner districts. No district can be created specifically to help a sitting county commissioner get re-elected. No district plan can be adopted to favor one political party over the other. No district plan can be proposed that deprives a person of appropriate electoral influence on the basis of race, national origin or protected language.
This new law will change the process of redistributing county commissioners in El Paso County. His chances of electing one or more Democratic county commissioners and leading to fairer representation are very good.
This may take some time. Redistribution efforts at all levels are complicated. Even the most well-intentioned redistribution process cannot be “pulled out of politics”. In addition, the nomination benefit will help some of the incumbent Republicans get re-elected. Stay tuned.
Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy write on National and Colorado political issues. Bob Loevy served on the Colorado State Reallocation Commission in 2011. Read his little book, “Confessions of a Reallocation Commissioner”. Google “Bob Loevy’s Home Page”.