Redistricting ballot measures tossed by Colorado Supreme Court

Redistricting ballot measures tossed by Colorado Supreme Court

The Colorado Supreme Court has thrown out two constitutional ballot measures that sought to change how Colorado draws its congressional and state legislative maps. But proponents of the measure vow they’ll try again in 2018.

The measures, promoted by Highlands Ranch Republican and former Speaker of the House Frank McNulty and former Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison, who ended her legislative career unaffiliated, were deemed in violation of the “single subject” rule and tossed Tuesday morning by the Court in a 4-3 decision.

The redistricting measures intended to remove the ability to draw those maps from two groups established in the state Constitution and put it instead in the hands of a single 12-member nonpartisan commission. The maps are drawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

According to the ballot initiatives’ main backer, End Gerrymandering Now, the measures would remove congressional redistricting from the partisan legislative process and give it to an independent commission and staff. The 12-member commission would include four Republicans, four Democrats and four members who are not affiliated with either major political party . Nonpartisan staff would draw the maps, as opposed to the current process, which allows political operatives to draw them. A super-majority of eight members would have to approve the maps, ensuring that no one political party would “hijack the map-drawing process.”

The commission currently in charge of drawing congressional districts is made up of lawmakers. The commission that draws state legislative maps are appointed by lawmakers and other elected officials, but that 11-member group is made up of both citizens and lawmakers.

Both ballot initiatives have been criticized by minority and voting rights groups as being vague and intended to disenfranchise minorities, a claim the initiative’s backers deny.

In their ruling on initiatives #132 and #133, the Court said that in “combining the restructuring of the Colorado Reapportionment Commission with changes to the constitutional role of the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Commission, both Initiatives violate the single subject requirement.”

That requirement says a ballot measure cannot have more than one subject.

In addition, the Court said, “Initiative #132 removes the power to draw congressional districts from the General Assembly and reallocates that constitutional power to the new Redistricting Commission. This constitutes an additional third subject.”

Only initiative #132 had gone out for petition signatures, according to End Gerrymandering Now spokesman Rich Coolidge.

The Title Board, a three-member group under the Secretary of State, decided the measures met the single-subject rule and approved the ballot measures for petitions in April. That decision was then challenged at the state Supreme Court by Donna Johnson and Jason Legg of Strengthening Democracy Colorado.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, the initiative sponsors can seek a rehearing with the Court in the next 10 days, which is rare. There are no other avenues of appeal.

We’ll be back, promises those who backed the redistricting measure.

In a statement, Curry, a former Democrat, said a faction of the Democratic Party killed redistricting reform. “We knew the status quo wouldn’t go quietly. The establishment has too much to lose if the people have a stronger voice.”

Curry added her group had tried to work with opponents up to the last minute, but faced delays and “hollow promises of collaboration at every turn.” She also lamented the lengthy delay by the state Supreme Court in coming up with its ruling.

“The court of public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to the status quo and the handful of establishment political bosses working to prevent reform.  We look forward to working with individuals and community organizations across the state as we move forward with efforts toward the 2018 ballot.

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About the Author

Marianne Goodland

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.

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