Redistricting in Colorado

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Redistricting in Colorado
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General information
Current legislative control:
Divided (Republicans control the Senate; Democrats control the House)
Congressional process:
State legislature
State legislature process:
Politician commission
Total seats
Congress: 7
State Senate: 35
State House: 65
Redistricting in other states
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RedistrictingState-by-state redistricting proceduresState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 Census
Redistricting is the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn. Each of Colorado's seven United States Representatives and 100 state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States Census. The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Redistricting is a fiercely-contested issue, primarily due to gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines to favor one political party or constituency over another. Two areas of contention include the following:

Competitiveness: Political parties or incumbents sometimes draw district lines for their benefit at the expense of proportionality and fair representation. Some argue that this practice contributes to the present lack of competitive elections. Uncompetitive elections can in turn discourage participation.[1]
Race and ethnicity: District lines sometimes minimize the influence of minority voters by disproportionately consolidating them within single districts or splitting them across several districts. These practices are examples of "packing" and "cracking," respectively.[1][2][3][4]
In Colorado, the state legislature is responsible for drawing congressional district lines. A politician commission draws state legislative district boundaries. In both the 2000 and 2010 redistricting cycles, divided state legislatures were unable to approve congressional redistricting plans. As a result, in both cycles, final maps were drawn by the state's courts.


See also: Redistricting

Federal law stipulates that all districts, whether congressional or state legislative, must meet two primary criteria.

  1. Equal population: According to All About Redistricting, federal law "requires that each district have about the same population: each federal district within a state must have about the same number of people [and] each state district within a state must have about the same number of people." Specific standards for determining whether populations are sufficiently equal vary for congressional and state legislative districts. See below for further details.[5]
  2. Race and ethnicity: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 states that district lines must not dilute the voting power of racial or ethnic minority groups. This provision "applies whether the denial is intentional, or an unintended end result. Courts essentially test whether the way that districts are drawn takes decisive political power away from a cohesive minority bloc otherwise at risk for discrimination."[5]

In most states, the legislatures are primarily responsible for both congressional and state legislative redistricting. However, reformers argue that partisan legislators are incapable of establishing fair district lines because they have a vested interest in the outcome. Instead, reformers advocate using different redistricting processes, including independent commissions or electronic methods. Opponents of these reforms argue that alternative processes are less accountable to voters, subject to partisan abuse, and perhaps unconstitutional.

State requirements


In addition to the federal criteria noted above, individual states may impose additional requirements on redistricting. Common state-level redistricting criteria are listed below. Typically, these requirements are quite flexible.

  1. Contiguity refers to the principle that all areas within a district should be "physically adjacent." A total of 49 states require that districts of at least one state legislative chamber be contiguous. A total of 23 states require that congressional districts meet contiguity requirements.[5][6]
  2. Compactness refers to the general principle that "the distance between all parts of a district" ought to be minimized. The United States Supreme Court has "construed compacted to indicate that residents have some sort of cultural cohesion in common." A total of 37 states "require their legislative districts to be reasonably compact." A total of 18 states impose similar requirements for congressional districts.[5][6]
  3. A community of interest is a "group of people in a geographical area, such as a specific region or neighborhood, who have common political, social or economic interests." A total of 24 states require that the maintenance of communities of interest be considered in the drawing of state legislative districts. A total of 13 states impose similar requirements for congressional districts.[5][6]
  4. A total of 42 states require that state legislative district lines be drawn to account for political boundaries (e.g., the limits of counties, cities and towns). A total of 19 states require that similar considerations be made in the drawing of congressional districts.[5][6]

Congressional redistricting

According to Article 1, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the states and their legislatures have primary authority in determining the "times, places and manner" of congressional elections. Congress may also pass laws regulating congressional elections. Section 4 explicitly vests the authority to regulate congressional elections with the legislative branches of the states and the federal government and not with the executive or judicial branches.[7][8]

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.[9]

—United States Constitution

Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution stipulates that congressional representatives be apportioned to the states on the basis of population. There are 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives. Each state is allotted a portion of these seats based on the size of its population relative to the other states. Consequently, a state may gain seats in the House if its population grows, or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states. In 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders that the populations of House districts must be equal "as nearly as practicable."[10][11][5]

The equal population requirement for congressional districts is strict. According to All About Redistricting, "any district with more or fewer people than the average (also know as the 'ideal' population), must be specifically justified by a consistent state policy. And even consistent policies that cause a 1 percent spread from largest to smallest district will likely be unconstitutional."[5]

State legislative redistricting

The United States Constitution is silent on the issue of state legislative redistricting. In the mid-1960s, the United States Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in an effort to clarify standards for state legislative redistricting. In Reynolds v. Sims, the court ruled that "the Equal Protection Clause [of the United States Constitution] demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races." According to All About Redistricting, "it has become accepted that a [redistricting] plan will be constitutionally suspect if the largest and smallest districts [within a state or jurisdiction] are more than 10 percent apart."

State process

See also: State-by-state redistricting procedures

In 37 states, legislatures are primarily responsible for drawing congressional district lines. Seven states have only one congressional district each, so congressional redistricting is not necessary. Four states employ independent commissions to draw the district maps. In two states, politician commissions draw congressional district lines.

State legislative district lines are primarily the province of the state legislatures themselves in 37 states. In seven states, politician commissions draw state legislative district lines. In the remaining six states, independent commissions draw the lines.[12]

In Colorado, the state legislature draws congressional district lines. These lines are subject to veto by the governor.[13]

Colorado's state legislative boundaries are drawn by a politician commission. The commission comprises 11 members selected as follows:[13][14]

  1. The legislature's four leaders (i.e., the majority and minority leaders of each chamber) select one member each.
  2. The governor appoints three commissioners.
  3. The chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court selects the remaining four members.

Only four commissioners can be members of the state legislature. No more than six may belong to the same political party. No more than four commissioners may reside in the same congressional district. Each congressional district must be represented on the commission. At least one commissioner must live west of the continental divide.[13][14]

State legislative district maps are automatically submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court for review. If the court rejects the plan, the commission is given another chance to draft a plan.[13][14]

The Colorado Constitution requires that state legislative district boundaries "be contiguous, and that they be as compact as possible based on their total perimeter." In addition, "to the extent possible, districts must also preserve the integrity of counties, cities, towns and–where doing so does not conflict with other goals–communities of interest." There are no similar requirements for congressional districts.[13][14]

District maps

Congressional districts

See also: United States congressional delegations from Colorado
Click the above image to enlarge it.
Source: The National Atlas of the United States of America

Colorado comprises seven congressional districts. The map to the right depicts Colorado's congressional district lines as drawn following the 2010 United States Census. The table below lists Colorado's current House representatives.

Colorado delegation to the United States House of Representatives
NamePartyPositionAssumed officeTerm ends
Diana DeGetteDemocratic PartyDistrict 1 1997January 3, 2017
Doug LambornRepublican PartyDistrict 5 2007January 3, 2017
Ed PerlmutterDemocratic PartyDistrict 7 2007January 3, 2017
Jared PolisDemocratic PartyDistrict 2 2009January 3, 2017
Ken BuckRepublican PartyDistrict 4 2015January 3, 2017
Mike CoffmanRepublican PartyDistrict 6 2009January 3, 2017
Scott TiptonRepublican PartyDistrict 3 2011January 3, 2017

State legislative maps

See also: Colorado State Senate and Colorado House of Representatives

Colorado comprises 35 state Senate districts and 65 state House districts. State senators are elected every four years in partisan elections. State representatives are elected every two years in partisan elections. To access approved and draft congressional and state legislative maps, click here.[15]


There are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between partisan gerrymandering and electoral competitiveness. Some critics contend that the dominant redistricting methods result in a lack of competitive elections. Jennifer Clark, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said, "The redistricting process has important consequences for voters. In some states, incumbent legislators work together to protect their own seats, which produces less competition in the political system. Voters may feel as though they do not have a meaningful alternative to the incumbent legislator. Legislators who lack competition in their districts have less incentive to adhere to their constituents’ opinions."[16]

Some question the impact of redistricting on electoral competitiveness. In 2006, Emory University professors Alan Abramowitz, Brad Alexander and Matthew Gunning wrote, "[Some] studies have concluded that redistricting has a neutral or positive effect on competition. ... [It] is often the case that partisan redistricting has the effect of reducing the safety of incumbents, thereby making elections more competitive."[17]

The individuals involved in redistricting must balance the desire for increased competitiveness with other principles that might conflict with that goal, such as compactness, contiguity, and maintaining communities of interest. For instance, it may at times be impossible to draw a competitive district that is both compact and preserves communities of interest.

In 2011, James Cottrill, a professor of political science at Santa Clara University, published a study of the effect of "non-legislative approaches" to redistricting on the competitiveness of congressional elections. Cottrill found that "particular types of [non-legislative approaches] encourage the appearance in congressional elections of experienced and well-financed challengers." Cottrill cautioned, however, that non-legislative approaches "contribute neither to decreased vote percentages when incumbents win elections nor to a greater probability of their defeat."[18]


See also: Margin of victory analysis for the 2014 congressional elections

In 2014, Ballotpedia analyzed the margins of victory in all 435 contests for the United States House of Representatives. Ballotpedia found that the average margin of victory was 35.8 percent, compared to 31.8 percent in 2012. A total of 318 elections (73 percent of all House elections) were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or more. Only 26 elections (6 percent of the total) were won by margins of victory of 5 percent or less. An election is deemed competitive if it was won by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less. See the table below for further details.

Note: The data below are provided only for informational purposes. It should be noted that there are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between redistricting and competitiveness. A variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels can impact electoral competitiveness.

In Colorado, three elections for the United States House of Representatives were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or greater. The smallest margin of victory occurred in District 6, where Mike Coffman (R) won by 8.9 percent. The largest margin of victory occurred in District 1, where Diana DeGette (D) won by 36.8 percent. The average margin of victory in Colorado was 20.9 percent. See the table below for full details.

Electoral margins of victory in 2014 United States House of Representatives elections, Colorado
District Winner Margin of victory Total votes cast Top opponent
District 1 Democratic Party Diana DeGette 36.8% 278,491 Martin Walsh
District 2 Democratic Party Jared Polis 13.5% 345,945 George Leing
District 3 Republican Party Scott Tipton 22.3% 281,141 Abel Tapia
District 4 Republican Party Ken Buck 35.4% 286,507 Vic Meyers
District 5 Republican Party Doug Lamborn 19.6% 262,855 Irv Halter
District 6 Republican Party Mike Coffman 8.9% 276,440 Andrew Romanoff
District 7 Democratic Party Ed Perlmutter 10.1% 269,143 Don Ytterberg

State legislatures

See also: Margin of victory in state legislative elections

In 2014, Ballotpedia conducted a study of competitive districts in 44 state legislative chambers between 2010 and 2012. Ballotpedia found that there were 61 fewer competitive general election contests in 2012 than in 2010. Of the 44 chambers studied, 25 experienced a net loss in the number of competitive elections. A total of 17 experienced a net increase. In total, 16.2 percent of the 3,842 legislative contests studied saw competitive general elections in 2010. In 2012, only 14.6 percent of the contests studied saw competitive general elections. An election was considered competitive if it was won by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less. An election was considered mildly competitive if it was won by a margin of victory between 5 and 10 percent. For more information regarding this report, including methodology, click here.

Note: These data are provided only for informational purposes. It should be noted that there are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between redistricting and competitiveness. A variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels can impact electoral competitiveness.

There were three competitive elections for the Colorado House of Representatives in 2012, compared to eight in 2010. There were seven mildly competitive state House races in 2012, compared to six in 2010. This amounted to a net loss of four competitive elections.

Partisan composition

The tables below summarize the current partisan composition of the Colorado House of Representatives and the Colorado State Senate.


SLP badge.png
Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 37
     Republican Party 28
Total 65


Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 17
     Republican Party 18
Total 35

Race and ethnicity

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandates that electoral district lines cannot be drawn in such a manner as to "improperly dilute minorities' voting power."

No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.[9]

—Voting Rights Act of 1965[19]

States and other political subdivisions may create majority-minority districts in order to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. A majority-minority district is a district in which minority groups comprise a majority of the district's total population. As of 2013, Colorado was home to no congressional majority-minority districts.[2][3][4]

Proponents of majority-minority districts maintain that these districts are a necessary hindrance to the practice of "cracking." Cracking occurs when a constituency is divided between several districts in order to prevent it from achieving a majority in any one district. In addition, supporters argue that the drawing of majority-minority districts has resulted in an increased number of minority representatives in state legislatures and Congress.[2][3][4]

Critics, meanwhile, contend that the establishment of majority-minority districts results in "packing." Packing occurs when a constituency or voting group is placed within a single district, thereby minimizing its influence in other districts. Because minority groups tend to vote Democratic, critics argue that majority-minority districts ultimately present an unfair advantage to Republicans by consolidating Democratic votes into a smaller number of districts.[2][3][4]


See also: Demographics of congressional districts as of 2013 and Demographics of congressional districts as of 2013 (as percentages)

The tables below provide demographic information for each of Colorado's congressional districts as of 2013. At that time, the population of the largest congressional district, District 1, totaled 740,254, and the population of the smallest, District 3, totaled 720,369, which represented a difference of 2.8 percent.[20]

Demographics of Colorado's congressional districts (as percentages)
District Hispanic White Black Native
Asian Pacific
Other Multiple
Colorado 20.78% 69.68% 3.78% 0.54% 2.71% 0.11% 0.16% 2.23%
District 1 28.6% 57% 8.4% 0.5% 3.2% 0.1% 0.2% 2.1%
District 2 10% 84% 0.7% 0.3% 2.8% 0.1% 0.2% 2%
District 3 24% 71.6% 0.8% 1.2% 0.7% 0.1% 0.1% 1.5%
District 4 21.4% 73.4% 1.1% 0.5% 1.6% 0.1% 0.1% 1.7%
District 5 14.6% 73% 5.3% 0.5% 2.3% 0.2% 0.2% 3.8%
District 6 19.7% 63% 8.6% 0.3% 5.2% 0.2% 0.2% 2.8%
District 7 27% 66% 1.3% 0.5% 3.1% 0.1% 0.1% 1.8%
Source: United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015
Demographics of Colorado's congressional districts
District Hispanic White Black Native
Asian Pacific
Other Multiple
Colorado 1,064,009 3,567,335 193,256 27,895 138,872 5,705 8,165 114,092 5,119,329
District 1 211,732 421,720 62,138 3,859 23,514 490 1,235 15,566 740,254
District 2 73,461 615,381 5,248 1,841 20,250 499 1,275 14,841 732,796
District 3 173,130 515,899 5,559 8,597 4,979 515 1,027 10,663 720,369
District 4 156,198 534,587 8,317 3,549 11,846 438 1,015 12,367 728,317
District 5 106,795 533,132 38,732 3,811 16,988 1,807 1,160 27,430 729,855
District 6 145,545 464,179 63,654 2,329 38,420 1,284 1,378 20,432 737,221
District 7 197,148 482,437 9,608 3,909 22,875 672 1,075 12,793 730,517
Source: United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015

Redistricting after the 2010 census

See also: Redistricting in Colorado after the 2010 census

Congressional redistricting, 2011

Following the 2010 United States, Colorado neither gained nor lost congressional seats. At the time, partisan control of the legislature was divided; Democrats held the state Senate, while Republicans held the state House. Gridlock ensued, and upon adjournment of the 2011 legislative session, the state legislature had failed to approve a congressional redistricting plan. Consequently, the state's courts were asked to intervene and adopt a new congressional map. Two separate suits were filed in Denver District Court. These were ultimately consolidated into one suit: Moreno et al. v. Gessler. According to All About Redistricting, Moreno and the other plaintiffs were "aligned with the interest of Colorado Democrats."[13][21]

On November 10, 2011, the district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered that the "Moreno" congressional map be implemented. On December 5, 2011, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the lower court's decision.[13][21]

In The Almanac of American Politics, Michael Barone and Chuck McCutcheon wrote the following about the political ramifications of the court-approved congressional map:[22]

The new map’s biggest shift was to remove nearly all of heavily Republican Douglas County from the 6th District and replace it with increasingly Latino Aurora to the north, making Republican Mike Coffman’s seat 7 percentage points less Republican. ... For all of the drastic changes and talk of competitiveness, all seven Colorado incumbents won reelection in 2012.[9]

—The Almanac of American Politics

State legislative redistricting, 2011

On September 19, 2011, the commission charged with state legislative redistricting approved final district maps. On November 15, 2011, these were rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court, which "found them insufficiently attuned to county boundaries." On December 5, 2011, the commission submitted new state legislative district maps. These were approved by the state supreme court on December 12, 2011.[13]

Redistricting after the 2000 census

Following the 2000 United States Census, Colorado gained one congressional seat. In the subsequent redistricting cycle, a divided state legislature was unable to approve a congressional redistricting plan. Consequently, it fell to the state's courts to draw a map. On January 25, 2002, "a state court enacted a map based largely on the Republican [legislative] leadership's plan, which was then approved by the state supreme court." The state legislature later attempted to implement its own congressional district map. The state supreme court rejected this map "on the grounds that the state constitution allows only one opportunity per decade, successful or unsuccessful, to redraw district lines."[13]

The politician commission charged with state legislative redistricting submitted a plan that was rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court "largely on equal population and county integrity grounds." On February 7, 2002, the commission submitted a revised plan, which was upheld by the state supreme court.[13]

Redistricting ballot measures

Voting on
elections and campaigns
Ballot measures
By state
By year
Not on ballot
See also: Redistricting measures on the ballot and List of Colorado ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked the following ballot measure(s) relating to redistricting in Colorado.

  1. Colorado Apportionment of General Assembly, Measure 3 (1922)
  2. Colorado Commission on Legislative Reapportionment, Measure 8 (1962)
  3. Colorado General Assembly Reapportionment, Measure 4 (1956)
  4. Colorado General Assembly Reapportionment, Measure 5 (1954)
  5. Colorado Legislative Districts, Measure 7 (1962)
  6. Colorado Legislative Reapportionment Timetable, Referendum B (2000)
  7. Colorado Provisions for Reapportionment and Redistricting Amendment (2014)
  8. Colorado Reapportionment of General Assembly, Measure 3 (1932)
  9. Colorado State Legislature Size, Measure 4 (1966)
  10. Colorado State Reapportionment Commission, Measure 9 (1974)
  11. Colorado State Representative Districts Amendment (2014)

Recent news

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See also

External links

Additional reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 All About Redistricting, "Why does it matter?" accessed April 8, 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Indy Week, "Cracked, stacked and packed: Initial redistricting maps met with skepticism and dismay," June 29, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 The Atlantic, "How the Voting Rights Act Hurts Democrats and Minorities," June 17, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Redrawing the Lines, "The Role of Section 2 - Majority Minority Districts," accessed April 6, 2015
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 All About Redistricting, "Where are the lines drawn?" accessed April 9, 2015
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 FairVote, "Redistricting Glossary," accessed April 9, 2015
  7. The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, "Election Regulations," accessed April 13, 2015
  8. Brookings, "Redistricting and the United States Constitution," March 22, 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  10. Brennan Center for Justice, "A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting," accessed March 25, 2015
  11. The Constitution of the United States of America, "Article 1, Section 2," accessed March 25, 2015
  12. All About Redistricting, "Who draws the lines?" accessed March 25, 2015
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 13.9 All About Redistricting, "Colorado," accessed April 22, 2015
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Redistricting in Colorado, "Constitutional Provisions," accessed April 22, 2015
  15. Redistricting in Colorado, "Maps," accessed April 22, 2015
  16. The Daily Cougar, "Redistricting will affect November election," October 16, 2012
  17. The Journal of Politics, "Incumbency, Redistricting, and the Decline of Competition in U.S. House Elections," February 2006
  18. Polity, "The Effects of Non-Legislative Approaches to Redistricting on Competition in Congressional Elections," October 3, 2011
  19. Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, "Voting Rights Act of 1965; August 6, 1965," accessed April 6, 2015
  20. United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015
  21. 21.0 21.1 Redistricting in Colorado, "Redistricting Committee," accessed April 22, 2015
  22. Barone, M. & McCutcheon, C. (2013). The almanac of American politics 2014 : the senators, the representatives and the governors : their records and election results, their states and districts. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.