Colorado: The New Model for Anti-Gerrymandering Reform?

COLORADO – Imagine an anti-gerrymandering campaign that had such broad support across the political spectrum that it was endorsed by both major political parties, was overwhelmingly approved for the ballot by the state legislature, and bans partisan gerrymandering completely.

Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Especially in today’s political environment. If something threatens the power of the parties, there is no way they will endorse it. Yet, in the purple state of Colorado, such a campaign does exist.

Amendments Y and Z

Fair Maps Colorado is the campaign behind Amendments Y and Z, which explicitly ban any form of partisan gerrymandering or incumbent protection schemes in Colorado. Both amendments:

  • Create 12-member independent redistricting commissions to redraw congressional (Y) and legislative (Z) maps;
  • Dictate that these commissions will be comprised of 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 4 independents (registered unaffiliated in Colorado);
  • Direct commissioners to make districts as competitive as possible;
  • Require supermajority approval from the commissions on the final maps, including at least 2 unaffiliateds;
  • Require open meetings, open records, and adherence to the state’s sunshine laws;
  • Require at least 3 hearings in each congressional district; and
  • Implement a 72-hour waiting period before map adoption.

Curtis Hubbard, spokesperson for Fair Maps Colorado, believes Amendments Y and Z combined are a national model for anti-gerrymandering reform.

“We’re the first, that we know of, that gives independent voters an equal seat at the table,” Hubbard said in an interview for IVN.

“Furthermore, we created a supermajority to pass any map — meaning eight of the twelve commissioners need to agree, and to make sure the parties don’t just divide up the territory as they see fit, at least two of those eight need to be from the independent commissioners.”

Amendments Y and Z are also unique because neither major political party has mounted an opposition to the reforms. In fact, both state parties endorsed the amendments. The amendments also sailed through the legislature with support from high-ranking officials.

We're the first, that we know of, that gives independent voters an equal seat at the table.
Curtis Hubbard, spokesperson for Fair Maps Colorado

Anti-gerrymandering proposals are usually met with some level of opposition from the powers that be. The dominant political party tends to have no interest in giving up their power to pick their voters.

Yet, in Colorado, neither party has a firm grasp on political power. It is a purple state with a narrowly divided legislature. And as a consequence of the state’s political makeup, it ends up being the courts that make the redistricting decisions.

“In 3 of the last 4 redistricting cycles, maps have been drawn by a single judge behind closed doors, and I think everyone realized that isn’t the ideal way,” Hubbard explained in our phone conversation.

He also said the state’s independent population played a significant role in bringing all sides together as well.

“Almost 4o% of registered voters are now unaffiliated with either major party, and all sides understand that just because they are unaffiliated, it doesn’t mean they are uninterested,” he said.

Fair Maps Colorado

Fair Maps Colorado formed from the alliance of two groups, Fair Districts Colorado and People Not Politicians. They initially had competing anti-gerrymandering amendments to put on the November ballot, but Hubbard credits campaign Co-Chair Kent Thiry with bringing the two groups together.

“He saw in the two competing proposals an opportunity for common ground, and recognized that rather than there being a zero-sum game where there was mutually assured destruction, an opportunity existed to put them together in a room and see if they had shared interest and come up with shared policy,” he explained.

This is a remarkable circumstance of interests from across the political spectrum rallying around good policy, and it's refreshing to watch -- it's refreshing to work on.
Curtis Hubbard, spokesperson for Fair Maps Colorado

Hubbard added that Thiry helped the groups realize that they had much more in common — specifically “the desire to create a system that looked after the interests of Colorado.”

Kent Thiry, CEO of DaVita Heathcare Partners, is not new to the election reform scene. He was involved in the successful campaign to get Propositions 107 and 108 passed. The proposals re-established a presidential primary and opened primary elections to independent voters, respectively.

This experience in advocating for good government proposals also helped open the right doors and gain people’s trust, according to Hubbard.

“He was seen as someone who could operate in good faith, and wasn’t operating with any one political party’s future in mind. He was someone looking out for a small ‘d’ democratic compromise for all sides,” he explained.

“Kent allows us to have what we call a tri-partisan effort here, and that means we have the Republicans, we have the Democrats, and he really brings an awareness and thoughtfulness about the middle and the unaffiliated and independent voters to the table. For us, that creates a broad base of support across the state.”

55 to Win

This will be the first election in Colorado in which proposed constitutional amendments need 55% or higher voter approval to pass. It’s a higher bar for campaigns like Fair Maps Colorado, but Hubbard says the campaign feels good about where it is.

“This is a remarkable circumstance of interests from across the political spectrum rallying around good policy, and it’s refreshing to watch — it’s refreshing to work on,” Hubbard commented.

“It’s really the type of thing that can be a blueprint for other states moving forward, where they’ll say, ‘Hey, if the Republicans and Democrats in Colorado can do it, certainly Republicans and Democrats in [name your state] can do it as well.'”

He added that voters are not going to stand for a redistricting system that simply acts as a partisan exercise. He said they’re going to stand up for efforts that look out for the interest of voters, not politicians.

Colorado voters will decide on Amendments Y and Z on November 6.