State Supreme Court: The Case for Competitive Congressional Districts | Cronin & Loevy | Content for subscribers only
It is now up to the Colorado Supreme Court to determine whether we will have a number of “competitive districts” in Colorado’s eight-person delegation to the US House of Representatives in Washington, DC
A redistribution plan submitted to the state’s Supreme Court by the Colorado Congressional Redistribution Committee only provides for one competitive district, a district where there could be serious competition between the Democratic and Republican parties as to which party will sit in the general election November will win.
State Senate Redistribution Card Final Adopted
This one competitive seat is north of Denver and extends all the way to Greeley. It contains a large percentage of Hispanic voters.
Colorado is eligible to have eight members of the US House of Representatives based on the 2020 US Census. In addition to one seat in the competition, the Congressional Redistribution Commission essentially recommended four “safe Democratic” seats and three “safe Republican” seats.
As advocates of constitutional republicanism and political scientists, we do not like safe democratic and safe republican seats. They are the ultimate form of gerrymandering, drawing district boundaries in such a way that a political party always wins the seat, no matter how the national electorate may vote. They are called “safe” seats because no matter what the political mood is across the country, the seat for that one preferred political party is “safe”.
We are calling on the Colorado Supreme Court, after reviewing the work of the Congressional Reallocation Commission, to reject the commission plan and instruct the commission to come up with a revised plan with at least four seats. That will do a lot to reduce gerrymandering in the Colorado delegation to the US House of Representatives.
We admire the efforts of the Congressional Redistribution Commission. The commission was created by a referendum in 2018 and paved the way for an end to gerrymandering in Colorado. They drew up a number of Congressional redistribution plans, held public hearings about these plans across the state, and selected one of these plans to send to the Colorado Supreme Court for final evaluation.
They did much of the electoral redistribution of Congress. On the way there, however, we believe that the work of the commission has fallen victim to manipulative lobbying by the Democrats and Republicans.
The news media reported in part how both political parties hired highly skilled, experienced and expensive lobbyists to influence the Commission to create safe seats instead of competing seats. These lobbyists’ paychecks came from anonymous donors whose names and dollar amounts were deliberately but unjustifiably withheld from the public, a technique known as “dark money”.
The media also reported how political party lobbyists recruited average people to speak at the commission’s national public hearings and taught them what to say. Speakers were encouraged not to reveal their prejudice against political parties or to point out how their testimony would help their political party secure a seat.
From our point of view, the never admitted strategy of the two political parties was to steer the discussion at the nationwide hearings to topics such as “not to divide my circles into two districts” and “to give minorities more voting rights”. These are certainly important issues. The two political parties stressed it because they did not want the commission to discuss (1) Gerrymandering and (2) creating competitive districts instead of safe districts.
One reason we know about these political party techniques is because one of us served on the Colorado Legislative Redistribution Commission in 2010. He saw firsthand that such hearings are often a puppet show where people testify as puppets and political party advisors pull the strings.
Why are we questioning these four safe Democratic and three safe Republican seats that the Congressional Reallocation Commission sent to the Colorado Supreme Court for final approval?
Think of it that way. By creating seven secure seats out of eight, the commission abolished general election to US representative for seven-eighth of the voters in Colorado. If the same political party wins parliamentary elections in November every two years (even years), the parliamentary election becomes meaningless. The actual voting for the US representative shifts to the party’s primary area code, where only registered political party voters and independent voters can vote. Persons registered in the other political party will be completely excluded from the vote.
There is a lot wrong with choosing members of the US House of Representatives in primary elections. One problem is voter turnout. While the turnout in the general election in November is around 60 percent, the turnout in the party primary elections in August (in Colorado) is around 30 percent, or half that high. That’s a lot of people who lose their vote because they live in a (for one party or another) safe district.
Another problem is that political party voters tend to be much less moderate or centrist in primary elections than voters in general elections. This means that Democratic primary voters tend to be liberal progressives and Republican primary voters tend to be right-wing conservatism.
This creates polarization. Democrats elected from safe Democratic seats to the House of Representatives are more liberal, and Republicans elected from safe Republican seats are more conservative than their constituencies. On Capitol Hill in Washington, the two sides have ideological problems.
Here is the saddest result, getting seven out of eight safe seats from Colorado in the US House of Representatives. Colorado voters will have little opportunity to influence national politics. No matter how the wind of national politics blows – pro-democracy or pro-republican – it will have no effect on seven of the eight seats in the Colorado House of Representatives. The same political party – four for the Democrats and three for the Republicans – will win those seven safe seats every time.
Only voters in Colorado’s contested district will have the opportunity to vote for one party or the other and have the election result influenced. Only the competitive district voters will be able to influence national politics and possibly play a role in shifting control of the US House of Representatives from one political party to another.
When voters finally decided on the establishment of the Congressional Redistribution Commission, they were not told that it would secure safe Democratic and Republican seats. They were told it would end gerrymandering and create competitive districts.
The justices of the Colorado Supreme Court. Please hear us. The advantages of competitive districts over safe seats for the Democrats and safe seats for the Republicans are well known. Please submit the 2021 Convention Redistribution Plan for Colorado back to the Redistribution Committee and assign them the task of creating several competitive districts.
When it comes to contest districts, you are “the court of last resort”.
Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy write about Colorado and national politics. Bob Loevy was a member of the Colorado State Legislative Redistricting Commission in 2010.