MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Colorado's Redistricting Reforms Exclude Third Parties

Proposed "independent commissions" would each include four Republicans, four Democrats, and four people not affiliated with any political party.

Wiki CommonsWiki CommonsVoters in Colorado will have an opportunity in November to give themselves a greater say in the state's redistricting process. But two ballot initiatives that would create "independent commissions" to redraw legislative districts seem deliberately crafted to exclude Coloradans who are members of third parties.

Amendments Y and Z will ask voters if they want to create 12-member commissions for the purpose of redrawing congressional and state legislative districts, respectively, after the next national census. Redistricting in Colorado is currently handled by the state legislature. If voters approve the creation of those redistricting commissions, half of the members would be selected by a panel of state Supreme Court justices, and half would be selected by the majority and minority leaders of the state legislature. Under the ballot initiatives, the commissions would each include four registered Republicans, four registered Democrats, and four people who "will not be affiliated with any political party."

The one-third/one-third/one-third split is meant to prevent either major party from hijacking the process, as has happened with similar, supposedly apolitical redistricting commissions elsewhere. But the initiatives effectively ban registered members of the Libertarian Party, Green Party, or other third parties from participating in the commissions.

The propositions are "leaving out those who have different ideas of what government of the people should look like," says Michael Stapleton, legislative director for the Libertarian Party of Colorado. "While they may include 'unaffiliated' voters, they are leaving out a good portion of those who don't want to have to choose between the Republican and Democratic [parties]."

The redistricting proposal sailed though both chambers of the state legislature with bipartisan support. Fair Maps Colorado, the nonpartisan organization that has pushed for the reforms, says independent commissions will produce districts that are fairer and more competitive. The group's website notes that Colorado has more unaffiliated voters than either Republicans or Democrats.

Neither of Colorado's two major parties has taken an official stance on the ballot initiatives yet, but it seems they are already trying to tilt the new commissions in their favor. An earlier version of Amendments Y and Z would have allowed members of third parties to serve on the commissions.

"What is clear is that the duopoly parties will employ any electoral device possible to win, short of genuine outreach to their bases and bringing legislative relief for Colorado's economic woes that impact working families," says Andrea Mérida, co-chair of the Green Party of Colorado. Mérida says Amendments Y and Z "represent a desperate attempt for the status quo for relevance in Colorado's political landscape." Stapleton calls the initiatives "just another example of the exclusionary tactics demonstrated by the Republicans and Democrats."

The amendments "were crafted to release the stranglehold that the politicians and the two major parties had on the process," says Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for Fair Maps Colorado. Hubbard says third-party voters, who account for about 2 percent of the state's population, will benefit from the increased transparency offered by the new process, which "includes numerous opportunities for public comment, review and engagement."

Fights over redistricting are often portrayed as purely partisan affairs in which Republicans try to screw over Democrats, or vice versa. But redistricting is also about protecting incumbents of both parties.

Third-party voters are used to seeing electoral and political systems stacked against them. Just this week, New Mexico announced that it will implement party-line voting options for the 2018 elections—a change that seems suspiciously timed to coincide with a viable third-party challenge from Libertarian Gary Johnson, who is polling ahead of the Republican candidate in this year's U.S. Senate race.

Involving the public in the redistricting process is a good way to increase transparency and accountability—and a good way for pols to avoid the criticism that they are choosing their voters, instead of the other way around. But in some cases, redistricting commissions have drawn maps that favor incumbents to roughly the same degree as maps produced by state lawmakers. A 2017 paper from researchers at UCLA found that state legislatures' maps turned out to be safer for incumbents than 77 percent of a set of possible alternatives created by computer simulations. Maps produced by independent commissions were only marginally less favorable for incumbent lawmakers.

A statistical analysis of congressional district maps produced by Azavea, a geospacial mapping firm in Philadelphia, found that independent redistricting commissions do a better job at crafting geographically compact districts, which can be measured by a variety of metrics.

Source: Azavea,Source: Azavea,

Colorado's redistricting commission proposal is likely to be a modest step toward reforming how legislative districts are drawn. It is one of several states with such proposals headed for the ballot this year. But excluding third-party voters from serving on the commissions is a troubling sign for a proposal that is supposed to make redistricting more inclusive.

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons, National Atlas of the United States

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Tony||

    Mathematically speaking you can't have more than one "third" anything. And so-called third parties are always a joke anyway. You guys like to dust off your middle school civics text and remind everyone about how the Electoral College is just the rules. Well the rules for elections in America, most of the time, is that Republicans compete against Democrats, with minor parties serving as spoilers or gadflies or are irrelevant, at least in a de facto sense. Play by the rules on the field, or whatever the crap. People who refuse to simply add their distinctiveness to the R or D collective are just virtue signalling. The party is what its members make of it. Don't participate, don't bitch. They're always gonna win.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    They're always gonna win.

    Until they don't and then they change the rules.

  • Tony||

    We aren't set up for any significant multiple-party representation in legislatures. All that means is that all the factions get lumped under two umbrellas. I don't see much practical difference (although there are undoubtedly some with respect to top-down stuff and funding).

  • Hamster of Doom||

    >>>People who refuse to simply add their distinctiveness to the R or D collective are just virtue signalling.

    I don't believe for one second you said this as a serious thing. Not with that Borg reference playing peek-a-boo.

  • Tony||

    If only the Borg could assimilate a race of PR people, they could work on their image.

  • Brian||

    Please tell me: how many major elections did your vote decide the winner of?

    All of them? A few dozen?

    Not even one?

  • Tony||

    An irrelevant question. And when does one vote ever matter by itself in any election ever? The freest democracy will eschew elections decided on a razor's edge if it can avoid it.

  • Brian||

    I'll take that as a "never."

    Good work. Thumbs up.

  • JFree||

    Well the rules for elections in America, most of the time, is that Republicans compete against Democrats, with minor parties serving as spoilers or gadflies or are irrelevant, at least in a de facto sense.

    Which makes America comparable to only the one-party dictatorships and the very rare duop DeRps (Jamaica, Malta, and Nigeria are the other two-party systems).

    A two-party system is not a 'natural' consequence of anything. It is a DIRECT consequence of rules that are designed to suppress all alternatives. Rules which most every other democracy find abhorrent to the very idea of how governance works.

    Obviously you're perfectly ok with that. Or you're as dumb and complacent as a rock

  • Mickey Rat||

    If third party voters are only 2% of the population, why should they expect a guaranteed seat on any commission of less than fifty members? Their lack of numbers is the argument against them.

  • Kevin Tyssen||

    It isn't that they are not guaranteed a seat at a table, they are guaranteed NOT to have a seat at the table. A registered Libertarian, Green, Constitution Party member, or member of any other party is de jure barred from participation

    It would be a simple fix too, just change the 3rd group from "unaffiliated" to "unaffiliated with the Democratic or Republican Parties"

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    It appears from this account that the Libertarian Party and Green Party erred by not arranging to have 'not affiliated with either political party' changed to 'not affiliated with the Democratic Party or the Republican Party' (probably with a 'no more than one member in this group from a particular party' kicker).

    Were the leaders of the Green Party and Libertarian Party napping during the period available for effective, practical action? (If they sought to participate and were rejected, that would be obnoxious.)

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    "any," not "either"

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    We're libertarians, we don't participate.

  • Juice||

    ...the Libertarian Party and Green Party erred by not arranging to have...

    Why would they be allowed anywhere near this process?

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Why wouldn't they?

  • Kevin Tyssen||

    These came from the legislature, which is all Democrats and Republicans

  • JFree||

    There was no napping. This was a big behind-the scenes abdication of interest in gerrymandering by the entire political establishment for the last 20 years or so. They were interested in a grand bargain - not dicking around with third parties.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    This comment seems uninformed and precipitated by disaffection.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    So the other four will be Democratic Socialists... because the committee needs a populist voice.

  • DiegoF||

    I initially read that as "Because the committee needs a papist voice." The "Democratic Socialist" thing threw me psychologically, it would seem.

  • DiegoF||

    I am waiting for this to make Volokh not HnR. It sure sounds like it's going to be hella vulnerable to litigation.

  • Mickey Rat||

    The biggest problem appears to be the assumption that the supreme court picks are going to be disinterested and impartial. The judiciary is increasingly partisan and they control the deciding votes.

  • DiegoF||

    Needless bureaucracy masquerading as good government. Why does Colorado need yet another independent commission? I say turn redistricting over to the Civil Rights Commission. That way they can draw the district boundaries for maximum Christian disempowerment.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    In order to allow libertarian participation, they would have to change the verbiage of the proposal to "will not be affiliated with any organized political party."

  • Happy Chandler||

    Single member districts are the problem.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I told y'all that the Democratic Party was dying and Libertarianism was gaining in popularity.

    Just look at efforts by Democrats and Republicans to slow the growing power and popularity of Libertarianism.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The most effective work against libertarianism is the work of faux libertarians.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    You said it faux libertarian.

  • JFree||

    The best way to force commissions/legislatures/etc to consider fair redistricting plans is for outsiders/independents (ideally NO active DeRps) to produce those redistricted maps BEFORE the commissions/legislatures do - using explicit criteria and publicly available voter/census data - and market the crap out of two or three of the best options to the media.

    Give the media a chance to see what a fair districting system looks like - before the parties have even finished playing their corrupt games - and they will be able to hold the parties and their PR agencies to a fair standard and force the agenda of the discussion. Force them to wait until the parties are issuing press releases for their gerrymanders - and it is too late for an actual story.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Force them to wait until the parties are issuing press releases for their gerrymanders - and it is too late for an actual story.

    Authoritarianism amplified by disaffection and futility is the path to freedom?

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    4 R's; 4 D's; and 4 unaffiliated.
    Going by what happened in CA with the Independent Redistricting Commissions, the make up will be 4 R's - 8 D's.....
    Because the Friends of D's LIE!

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online