Battle lines: Amendments Y and Z are the way to go

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Posted 9/26/18

What’s all the cheering over Y and Z? Well, my friends “Y and Z” can lead us out of power politics in Colorado when it comes to drawing the boundaries for both Congressional and state …

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Battle lines: Amendments Y and Z are the way to go

Posted

What’s all the cheering over Y and Z? Well, my friends “Y and Z” can lead us out of power politics in Colorado when it comes to drawing the boundaries for both Congressional and state legislative districts. The art of gerrymandering would be severely constrained, if not eliminated, with the passage of these two good government amendments. What exactly is the problem and how would it be reduced or resolved with their successful passage?

Should boundaries be drawn to favor one party?

For decades, Colorado and many other states have succumbed to gerrymandering, where the political party in control when U.S. Census publishes its counts every 10 years uses it’s leverage to draw Congressional and state legislative district boundaries that totally favor it.

Sometimes the boundaries are so illogical and lopsided with voters from one political party that lawsuits are brought and the court ends up drawing the boundaries.

It is difficult to realize a fair balance of registered Democrats and Republicans in each district when the party in control draws the boundaries to load up more of their registered voters. Finally, it has gotten so blatant in some states that the drawn boundaries have either been ruled unconstitutional in the courts or ballot issues have been approved to correct the problem.

Other states in the spotlight

Wisconsin, North Carolina and Maryland have been in the forefront in court battles to throw out the existing boundary maps and impose criteria which would produce a fairer balance of all registered voters.

Even though a federal Appeals Court found that the gerrymandered districts in Wisconsin deprived citizens of their rights under the 1st and 14th amendments, the U.S. Supreme Court referred the matter back to the lower court.

To demonstrate the concern, in 2012 even though Democrat candidates received more than 52 percent of the votes for the State Assembly, they ended up with only 39 percent of the seats in that house. In the state Senate, Democrats were two seats shy of the majority — seats that they contend were essentially stolen from them by extreme partisan redistricting.

Now, anti-gerrymandering groups are worried that if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice that their hopes will be dashed for any future appeal based on their belief that he is an extreme partisan.

North Carolina’s situation is up in the air

In the case of North Carolina, a panel of federal judges recently struck down the Congressional districting map saying that the Republican state legislators went too far to preserve GOP-held seats.

The judges had raised the possibility of redrawing the districts by mid-September in time for this year’s Congressional elections, but that’s no longer practical.

It remains to be determined if North Carolina will have to wait until 2021, when the state legislature would have the completed 2020 census data.

Currently, there are eight justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. If either the Wisconsin or North Carolina cases would find their way to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal, a lot depends on when the appeal would come before the high court. If a decision would be made before the President’s nominee is confirmed and seated, there is the possibility of a tie vote by the Supreme Court. If that were to happen, the lower court’s decision would stand.

On the other hand, if the ninth justice is seated in time, there is much speculation that a 5-4 vote would go against the anti-gerrymanders.

Here is how Colorado could work

Back to Colorado’s situation: Both major political parties have been guilty of practicing gerrymandering over the past few decades when their respective party has been in power.

“Good government” interests have helped spearhead a ballot proposition effort to directly address things like back room deals and midnight gerrymandering that have happened too many times.

Amendments Y and Z would change how both Congressional (Y) and state legislature (Z) district boundaries are determined starting with the 2021 re-districting.

The state legislature would no longer call the shots, and I say Hurray!

The ballot proposal calls for an independent commission consisting of four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated voters.

Half of the commissioners would be randomly selected from a pool of applicants that was narrowed by a team of three retired judges. The other half would be selected by a retired judge panel to ensure geographic and demographic representation.

Applicants will be required to have spent three to five years without being politically active as a paid campaign staffer, party official or lobbyist.

All meetings would be held in open session. The two amendments ban gerrymandering and incumbent protection. Important protections to voting blocs considered “communities of interest” would be maintained so that minority demographics are not disenfranchised.

State could be a leader

So, here is an opportunity for Colorado to be a leader in demonstrating how gerrymandering can be significantly reduced — if not eliminated. Our state legislature voted unanimously to put these amendments on this fall’s ballot. I would say that is quite significant for both political parties in the legislature to send such a clear-spoken message. They both make good sense and would produce fairer results.

Let’s get behind the work and thought of the legislature and make this much needed change happen.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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