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Montezuma County to suggest changes to state redistricting commission about proposed map

The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission released a new map displaying potential new state legislative boundaries.
State panel released an updated map of proposed state legislative districts

The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commission released an update of its state legislative redistricting maps Monday that would divide Montezuma County into two Colorado House of Representatives districts.

Montezuma County previously expressed concern after the commission released its first state House map June 29.

County commissioners wrote a letter to the redistricting committee asking it to implement the least amount of change possible in the state legislative district outlines.

The letter expressed a willingness to work directly with the commission to offer insight about local implications of the redistricting process.

The latest map was created after the redistricting commission gathered feedback from communities throughout the state and took into account data from the 2020 census.

Based on that data, the commission is aiming for a target population of 88,826 people in each state House district.

A public comments form has been available here.

Montezuma County was ranked in the top 15 counties for submitting feedback to the redistricting commissions.

The redistricting occurs every 10 years in line with the census and is overseen by the committee, which 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 that use independent committees to redraw districts.

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On a local level, Montezuma County is still most concerned about the state House map, because the county would remain whole in the proposed congressional and state Senate districts, said Commissioner Jim Candelaria.

“We’re just looking at it as ‘Are we whole as Montezuma County, or not?’” he said.

The previous draft of the state House map divided the county vertically, but now, a horizontal line separates the northern part of Montezuma County from the rest, placing it in a state House district with Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray, Montrose, Hinsdale and parts of Delta and Gunnison counties.

The rest of Montezuma would fall alongside La Plata, Archuleta, and San Juan counties in a state House district.

Doug Roth, GIS coordinator, and Rachel Medina, GIS specialist for the county, are preparing a map to propose to the redistricting commission by Friday.

That map would suggest placing Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata and San Juan counties in one state House district – as well as the western sides of San Miguel and Montrose counties.

These changes would make sense, given that the areas are similar and there are already school district and voter precinct boundaries that align there, Roth said.

“They as a committee need to realize the implications this has on elections offices, including Montezuma County’s elections office, which has one full-time employee – and it’s burdensome if they don't align to current voting districts,” he said, adding, “I don’t pretend that the job’s easy.”

The division of the county would be a burden to taxpayers, Candelaria said.

However, if the proposed map isn’t accepted, Roth hopes that the current map can be updated to align with the Dolores School District RE-4 boundaries, which would still meet the committee’s target population number, he said.

To some degree, Monday’s map is an improvement from the last, Roth said.

“It’s an improvement because it’s not some arbitrary kind of reach into the city of Cortez and taking a chunk out,” he said.

Roth and Medina will represent the county at a virtual legislative redistricting meeting at 6 p.m. Friday.

The redistricting commission will continue to develop the map, and Oct. 11 is its final legislative map approval deadline. It has to file the plan to the Colorado Supreme Court by Oct. 15.

After ensuring equal representation in districts, the commission must prioritize compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect the votes of minority groups.

The Colorado Sun reported that Ernest House, former executive director of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs, said that the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute tribes had not been able to provide the commission with feedback because of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Colorado Constitution stipulates that the commission should “preserve whole ‘communities of interest’” as much as possible.

Communities of interest are “any group in Colorado that shares one or more substantial interests that may be the subject of federal legislative action, is composed of a reasonably proximate population, and thus should be considered for inclusion within a single district for purposes of ensuring its fair and effective representation,” as defined by the state constitution.

Political competitiveness is the final priority the commission must take into consideration when drawing maps.

County commissioners discussed these points at their meeting Tuesday morning.

The Colorado Sun contributed to this article.