There are 13 statewide questions on the Colorado ballot vying for your attention and possible support. Of those, two stand out as particularly worthy of consideration: proposed constitutional amendments Y and Z.
Referred to voters by the state legislature without a single “no” vote, the amendments represent a sincere effort to salvage the integrity of our democratic processes, at least in Colorado.
As things stand, we have a win-lose system when it comes to politics. And whichever one of our two major parties is currently the “winner” works as hard as possible to stay on top. One of the best tactics for retaining power is gerrymandering – drawing the maps of various voting districts in order to ensure that as many of your people as possible can keep winning re-election. It’s to the advantage of the party in power to “stack” voters from the opposition into as few districts as possible so the others can more easily be won by the party on top.
Colorado is a pretty purple state. We have one Democratic senator, one Republican. We have four GOP congresspeople, three Democrats. Republicans control the state Senate, while Democrats control the state House.
So you’d think there would be a reasonable chance in most voting districts for either a Republican or a Democrat to win. But you’d be wrong, according to Jean Fredlund, a member of the state board of directors of the League of Women Voters of Colorado.
Fredlund spoke to the Montezuma County chapter of the hard-working LOWV at a presentation Sept. 8. She said just three out of Colorado’s 65 seats in the state House, and just six of its 35 Senate seats, are actually competitive, meaning they could conceivably be won by a strong candidate of either party. Likewise, she said, of the seven districts for U.S. representative, just one is competitive.
What’s the effect of that imbalance? Well, in most districts the general election is just a sham, and the non-majority party has to decide whether even to bother putting up a candidate who is essentially cannon fodder. The real election takes place in the primary. And who votes in primaries? Mostly people who are especially “gung-ho” for their party, Fredlund says.
“Those people tend to choose candidates on the extremes,” she said. “So you end up with people in the state legislature who are a bunch of extremes and you end up in deadlock. Nothing gets done.”
Not only that, but with most Coloradoans being fairly moderate and centrist in their views, they are being poorly represented by a pack of ultraright and ultra-left politicians.
This year featured an open primary that allowed unaffiliated voters to cast ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary, but so far it hasn’t had a big impact on the partisanship of the voting as a whole.
And the reason most of the state legislative districts are so lopsided in
favor of one party or another is because the maps are drawn by an 11-member commission that has no guaranteed seats for unaffiliated citizens. This generally means a 6-5 majority for whichever party holds the governor’s office.
It’s a similar situation regarding congressional voting districts. The state legislature chooses the maps, and if the two houses can’t agree, a judge selects the final map.
In 2016, the LOWV and other parties decided to set about coming up with a different plan. After a lot of work, they came up with the proposal in amendments Y and Z. Y involves congressional redistricting, Z involves the state legislature, but the idea is the same. The voting districts would be drawn by a commission composed of four Republicans, four Democrats, and four unaffiliated voters. All of them would have to have been registered as such for at least the past five years. Any map they come up with would require the approval of a majority of eight, two of whom would have to be independents.
The process for picking members of the commission is fairly complex, but ultimately they would be chosen by a three-member panel of senior judges.
Furthermore, in contrast to the current setup, where decisions about voting districts can be made at the last minute in private, amendments Y and Z would require that every meeting of the commission be public. Meetings would be held in different locations around the state, three in each congressional district. Decisions would have to be made at the meetings. Any citizen of the state could give input.
“We’re looking at making the districts as competitive as possible,” Fredlund said.
Redistricting would be done every 10 years, following the census.
The proposal probably isn’t perfect – nothing is – but, as Fredlund said, “it’s much, much better than what we have right now.”
So dig out your big blue 2018 State Ballot Information Booklet and take a look at amendments Y and Z. Even if you plan to vote no on everything else, give these a good perusal.
People deserve a genuine choice when it comes to the folks who will represent them in the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. Right now, we don’t have that.