Newspapers jumped too quickly in supporting a proposal to reform redistricting process

Editorial boards at The Denver Post and Durango Herald, which are known to be deliberative bodies when it comes to policy, jumped out of the gate way too soon in backing a new process for determining election districts, writing supportive editorials even before all the facts are on the table about the vague initiative–and key questions are completely unanswered.

You wonder how these newspapers could possibly have given an initial “thumbs up” to the proposal in light of its immediate red-flag language that would gut minority voting power. The language expressly prohibits the commission from augmenting minority voting – splitting their voting blocs at a time when Hispanic voters are growing.

This major problem in the language is compounded by the creation of a flawed pecking order of factors the commission can consider in drawing new lines. Dead last on the list is “communities of interest,” making them the least important. Communities of interest include minority communities, but also areas that share common bonds like mountain communities, college towns or agricultural towns.

Another of the most glaring omissions in the proposed initiative, which would appear on the November ballot, is the lack of public process so grassroots organizations and average voters could offer input on the creation of new electoral districts. It’s hard to understand why newspapers, which stand for transparency and public input into government decisions, would put their stamp of approval on cutting out the public.

Equally incongruous with a newspaper’s values is the way the proposal potentially removes “independent” commission members  from the decision-making process on new electoral districts. The proposed initiative assigns legislative researchers to produce maps, and if a supermajority of commission members fails to approve the maps drawn by legislative staff, then the commission would be leapfrogged and the first map (ignoring any improved subsequent maps) would go directly to the Colorado Supreme Court—potentially without approval from any of the commission members.

In other words, there’s no guarantee that the 12-member commission, equally split among Democrats, Republicans, and independents, would have any real power.

Neither newspaper addressed the minority-representation problem, the lack of community input, and the limited power of the commission itself—as well as other problems and questions, including one that you’d think would be near and dear to the heart of a newspaper: Who’s bankrolling this effort?

Yet, The Post inexplicably touted the initiative with the naïve comment of “goodbye gerrymandering.” Wow.

At least the Durango Herald had the good sense to acknowledge that much is unknown about the proposed initiative, concluding its editorial with, “Much will depend on the final language of the measure….” And even backers of the amendment are saying nothing has been finalized.

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