Preliminary redistricting maps released by the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission show a potential plan to split Montezuma County into two state House of Representatives districts.
The redistricting is executed every 10 years in line with the U.S. Census, and aims to administer equal representation for members of the population.
The committee was established by Amendments Y and Z in the Colorado Constitution.
It redraws boundaries for the Colorado General Assembly — both the state’s House of Representatives and Senate — as well as Colorado’s U.S. congressional districts.
Colorado is in the minority of states which use independent commissions to redraw districts.
Montezuma County would still fall in Colorado's 3rd Congressional District for U.S House of Representatives appointments.
Only the state House redistricting would have significant adverse effects on the county, said Commissioner Jim Candelaria.
The state House map would divide Cortez, and even a housing development, almost in half, giving the city two representatives, in what would be Districts 52 and 53.
“We do not want our county split,” he said. “It has been in the past. I don't think it worked out.”
On the new map, part of Montezuma County would fall in the same state House district as La Plata County.
The redistricting would pose several complications, he said.
“So you now split school districts — RE-1 school district is now split in half,” Candelaria said. “What do you do with representatives? Who do you go to? Who do you talk to?”
The new mapping would also pose a financial burden for the county clerk, he said.
“We have enough struggles right now,” he said. “I may not be in the Cortez Fire Protection District, and I'm in Dolores’ district. So it's just another overlay of a ballot. There are several overlays in every ballot that get split, and we don't need to add another split.”
Rachel Medina, the county’s Geographic Information System specialist, said she understands the redistricting committee aims to be unbiased, but that they are not taking into account regional knowledge from locals.
The new boundaries do not consider school district, taxing district or voter precinct boundaries, she said.
“It takes every big city or town in Montezuma County, and then leaves the rural part to be in a different district,” she said. ”I'd say in the densely populated areas like the Front Range, it makes sense that you're going to have to split counties just to meet the population standards, but to take a rural community like ours, where we're only 25,000, and to split us — it just doesn't make sense.”
The county hopes that the commission will adopt the approach of implementing the least amount of change possible in the state legislative outlines.
It addressed a letter to the state redistricting committee extending an offer to work together and supplying feedback.
The letter expresses concern that the state House district lines do not coincide with current voter precinct boundaries.
An excerpt from the letter reads: “This would be extremely burdensome for our county that has only one full-time elections employee. This change would cause hundreds, if not thousands of hours of work for this employee to update voter rolls in the SCORE system.”
Additionally, the letter said the split would spark “voter confusion” and would “pit neighbor against neighbor.”
The letter asked the committee to directly contact Montezuma County officials for insight on possible local implications of the new state House districts.
“We drew the preliminary maps, but now we have the real data and all the information that we've heard out on the road,” said Jessica Shipley, Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission staff director. “So the preliminary plan will be changed to reflect all of that.”
The newer maps will take into account recently released data from the 2020 Census.
The committee did not travel to Montezuma County in its public hearing tour schedule, but had a meeting in Durango Aug. 7.
Candelaria was present at the Aug. 7 meeting, and the county left written comments and another letter for the redistricting committee’s review then.
He first saw the proposed map about two months ago, and will continue to follow the situation, he said.
He is attending a Colorado Counties Inc. meeting Friday in Montrose where he expects to discuss the redistricting.
The committee will continue to accept public feedback. It will travel around the state for more insight on the maps through Aug. 28, Shipley said.
“They were just to essentially have a starting point to have conversations with people around the state — they were never intended to be the maps,” she said.
The committee is presenting updated congressional maps Sep. 6, and the legislative maps about a week later, although no date has been selected yet, she said.
Here is the commission’s public comment form.
State Rep. Marc Catlin, a Republican who represents state District 58 – serving Dolores, Montezuma, Montrose and San Miguel counties – did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.