The thought of redistricting in Colorado brings with it memories of party fights and litigation. This year, however, the state should be able to avoid the sort of political brawl that erupted after the 2000 census, said Durango attorney Trish Pegrem.
Pegrem was the guest speaker at a redistricting forum sponsored by the Montezuma County League of Women Voters on Saturday at Shiloh Steakhouse in Cortez. The purpose of the forum was to educate Montezuma County residents on the intricacies of the redistricting process.
We are right in the middle of redistricting and there is already starting to be some arguments and things are getting controversial, said league member LouAnn Burkett. This is a very interesting and timely discussion to help us understand what redistricting is and how it impacts us.
Pegrem offered those in attendance background information on the redistricting process, including recently released Census data.
According to the data Pegrem provided, Montezuma Countys mail-in Census participation rate stood at 62 percent for last years Census. The number was slightly down from the 63 percent return rate in 2000. The overall Colorado return rate was 72 percent, just 2 percent lower than the national rate, which stood at 74 percent.
U.S. population was tabulated at 308,745,538 on April 1, 2010, a 9.7 percent increase over the past decade. Colorados population grew by 16.9 percent, landing at just over 5 million. Population numbers are the starting point for redistricting, Pegrem said.
The data from the Census determines the apportionment of congressional seats, Pegrem said. There are 435 seats in the (U.S.) House of Representatives, and they have to be divided up among the states based on population.
Following the Census every 10 years, each states allotment of seats is reexamined. Colorado has seven seats in the U.S. House, and overall population change did not warrant the loss or gain of seats. Eight states gained seats after the Census, and 10 states lost seats.
Redistricting is the process by which state legislatures redraw district lines to either compensate for seat losses or gains or to balance population.
The state has to divide the seats among the entire state population, Pegrem said. That is the districting process.
In Colorado, the average number of people in each of the seven congressional districts is 720,704. The 3rd Congressional District, which covers the Western Slope and extends east to Pueblo, is roughly 12,000 people below that mark. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, represents the district.
We are going to have to pick up 12,000 somewhere, which is hard because the biggest complaint that the district is too darn big already, Pegrem said.
A joint select committee has been appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to study redistricting in the state and propose a solution. Because the state is not losing or gaining seats, Pegrem expects the process to be simpler than in 2000, when Colorado gained one seat.
I think that fact is going to have a significant impact on the redistricting work that has to be done, Pegrem said. The last process was a major battle between the Dems and Republicans over how the district map was going to be drawn. It wound up going to the state supreme court. Since we dont have a new seat, I think the changes we are going to see will be around the edges not a wholesale redrawing of things. It should be an easier process.
Pegrem did caution that though redistricting seems headed for a smooth process this year, any political process deserves strict scrutiny.
This year it should be a minor thing and, God willing, the creek wont rise and we will get through this redistricting with a minimal amount of huffing and puffing and argument, she said. But lets all watch it carefully. It is a political process, and we should be aware.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at firstname.lastname@example.org.