The panel tasked with redrawing Colorado’s congressional districts will use preliminary census data to start, an unusual tactic that could be struck down by the Colorado Supreme Court or result in lawsuits.
The Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission, which will need to add the new 8th Congressional District to the state’s map, voted 12-0 on Monday to move ahead with the use of available state and federal data. That isn’t as accurate as the block-level data typically used for redistricting, but block-level data will not be available from the U.S. Census Bureau until August due to difficulties conducting the census during the pandemic last year.
“This is an intermediate step to allow us to get the process started and to create a preliminary (map),” Lori Schell, an unaffiliated commissioner from Durango, said during Monday’s meeting.
The commission’s nonpartisan staff will use state population estimates, American Community Survey data and a U.S. Census Bureau file of addresses to create a preliminary map of congressional districts by June 23. Commissioners will then hold three public meetings in each of the state’s seven congressional districts by Aug. 16 to gather feedback.
After getting block-level census data in the summer and taking into consideration all public comments, the panel will create a final map in the fall. Several commissioners said Monday they would like to hold another round of public hearings after the last one is done.
“I don’t have any doubt that the (preliminary) data being recommended here will provide a sound basis for us to proceed with the work at hand,” said Commissioner Bill Leone, a Republican from Westminster.
Commissioner Jason Kelly said he was worried about whether the commission has the power to use the preliminary data, but the Republican from Alamosa voted to move ahead anyway. The commission had been advised by the legislature and the Secretary of State’s Office to move ahead with preliminary data.
The commission has until December to create a congressional map, which will be used in federal elections for the next decade, and have it approved by the Colorado Supreme Court.
Several other states have chosen to move ahead with alternative data in the face of Census Bureau delays. Two states, New Jersey and Virginia, will skip redistricting altogether and use prior district lines for the 2022 elections (neither state added or lost a congressional seat). And Ohio unsuccessfully sued the Census Bureau to get its data sooner.
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