Colorado lawmakers look to use preliminary data for redistricting amid census delays
The Colorado House of Representatives approved a resolution on Wednesday that asks the state Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of using preliminary population data to draw initial electoral maps in light of census data delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While no one could have predicted that a public health crisis would throw a wrench into our carefully crafted process, we have to do everything we can to ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible,” House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, said in a statement.
“That’s why we’re engaged in a bipartisan effort with the Colorado Supreme Court to guarantee fair and balanced maps are delivered on time and with full public participation and input.”
The resolution passed 50-13.
SB21-247, which has already passed the Senate and has made it through a second reading in the House, would allow the state’s independent redistricting commissions to use preliminary data — such as the state apportionment data the U.S. Census Bureau released on April 26 and other approved demographic data — to draft new boundaries for congressional and state legislative districts.
The final maps will still need to use the final census data.
“We’re going to get that census data when we do and we’re going to get a lot of work done up until then,” House Minority Leader Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, said during a floor session on Tuesday.
Colorado voters approved constitutional Amendments Y and Z in 2018, shifting the redistricting responsibility from the state legislature to an independent commission. Those amendments included a specific timeline for drafting preliminary plans, organizing public hearings and sending a final plan to the Supreme Court for approval.
That calendar is completely off kilter now with delays in census data reporting caused by the pandemic; the bureau was supposed to release granular block-level data at the end of March but is now anticipating getting it out in August.
The stakes are especially high this redistricting cycle after Colorado was apportioned an eighth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill would give the commission flexibility to do its job even with those unexpected challenges.
“What we’re really doing is saying that we might not have what we call the legacy data for a long time. It might impact our caucuses and our assemblies and our primaries,” McKean said. “Therefore, what we’re going to do is figure out the very, very best way to put our nose to the grindstone and get on with this process.”
The legislation’s intention is to “make sure there aren’t any backroom conversations happening, that we are using the data we have available right now to start the conversations and start having those meetings open, in the front,” Esgar said on the floor on Tuesday.
Additionally, the bill asks the court to apply a substantial compliance standard in any legal challenges against the redistricting outcomes, paying attention to whether those results satisfied the overall intent of the independent redistricting commission’s mandate.
The House wants the court’s opinion on those two main provisions before they vote on the bill’s final passage. Without that guidance, there will “likely be litigation challenging the constitutionality” of the legislation.
The resolution was also passed by the Senate on Wednesday. The House will consider the bill for final passage on May 19, giving the Supreme Court enough time to consider the interrogatory.
Chieftain reporter Sara Wilson can be reached via email at SWilson@gannett.com or on Twitter: @WilsonSaraJane.