Fair Districts Colorado Ballot Initiatives in Support of Independent Redistricting Commissions
Facts of the Case
Fair Districts Colorado, a redistricting reform group, proposed a series of ballot initiatives that seek to establish independent redistricting commissions (IRCs) to draw Colorado’s state legislative and congressional district lines. The IRCs are designed to promote a more democratic process for Colorado redistricting, which happens every ten years with the census. In order to achieve this goal, the initiatives lay out criteria for drawing district lines meant to protect voters of color and to prevent one political party from unilaterally controlling the redistricting process. One such criterion calls for the protection of communities of interest, defined as groups that share ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area, geographic, demographic, racial or linguistic ties.
The initiatives were submitted to the Colorado Title Board, which reviews proposed ballot initiative language. At the Title Board, the initiatives were challenged by a group of petitioners for violating the Colorado Constitution’s “single subject” requirement for ballot initiatives. The single-subject rule applies to many states, including Colorado, and limits the scope of ballot initiatives to one issue. Specifically, the challengers argued that the initiatives “authoriz[ed]—as a substantive matter and for the first time—‘communities of interest’ based on voters’ race or language group” which would “fundamentally alter the purpose” of state legislative and congressional representation in Colorado. Petitioners argued that including race and language groups in the community of interest criterion would allow a “new form of race-based districting [to be] authorized in Colorado.” The Title Board denied the challenge and set titles for the initiatives, and petitioners appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court in December 2017.
What’s at stake
CLC submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on Jan. 4, 2018 in support of those seeking to get the redistricting reform initiatives on the ballot. CLC’s brief outlines the importance of allowing IRCs to be advanced through ballot initiatives, especially where there is no incentive for incumbents to relinquish their control over redistricting. The brief next explains the benefits of IRCs, and highlights evidence from social and political science that points to the improvements in democracy that have resulted from the introduction of IRCs in other states. Next, the brief argues that the initiatives’ protections for racial, ethnic, and language minorities do not address multiple subjects, but instead, accurately reflect existing federal and Colorado law with respect to communities of color. CLC’s brief further explains that including race as one of many redistricting criteria to be considered when drawing maps does not require an IRC to engage in racial gerrymandering.
The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in the case will determine whether the ballot initiatives can be included on the ballot in 2018.