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The independent redistricting commission heard public comment during an Aug. 28 public meeting at Pikes Peak Community College.

Proposed changes to Southeast Colorado Springs’ House District 17 by the independent redistricting commission have raised concerns among Southeast residents and elected officials. Following an Aug. 28 public meeting at Pikes Peak Community College, the independent redistricting commission has released two different sets of legislative maps for Colorado Springs.

The most recent — and likely final — version seems to incorporate the changes asked for by community members and elected officials in Southeast Colorado Springs. Currently, the map shows HD17 stretching from Marksheffel Road on the east to Nevada Avenue on its westernmost point, in between Platte Avenue on the north and South Academy Boulevard on the south.

Since July, the redistricting commission has been holding public meetings across Colorado to gather public input on proposed changes to the district maps. The commission must approve final maps by Oct. 11.

“I know the final decisions, if they are not consistent with the statutory criteria, can go to court,” said Sen. Pete Lee (D-SD11). “I’m hoping the commission responds to legitimate concerns about breaking up communities of interest.”

Proposed changes to Southeast Colorado Springs’ House District 17 by the independent redistricting commission could have a profound impact on the political landscape. Redistricting is a process that is legally required every 10 years in Colorado. It includes drawing new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts. The redistricting commission is made up of appointed volunteers that include four Democrats, four Republicans, and four unaffiliated voters.

“Do you have an independent commission?” asked Lee. “I think on paper you have an independent commission. Do people leave their partisanship at the door when they come in? I think they try to do that, and we’ll see how successful that is. The idea of an independent commission makes sense.”

District 4 City Councilor Yolanda Avila addressed the preliminary redistricting map during an Aug. 21 town hall. 

“There’s an independent commission, but the lines are drawn to cut Southeast right in half, our voting bloc in half for our district, which right now is District 17,” she said. “If you live south of Fountain Boulevard, you’re in a house district with the Broadmoor and downtown. Who do you think the elected officials will be from? North of Fountain, all the way to Austin Bluffs. Our ability to vote as a community of interests has been diluted and split. We need to have our voices heard. It’s not partisan.”

El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzales (R-District 4) spoke at the Aug. 28 redistricting commission meeting with concerns about the changes to HD17.

“Where the cutoff right now is Highway 24, I think the community of interest might be benefited by going up to Platte Avenue, which would help keep more of that community of interest.”

Rep. Tony Exum (D-HD17), also expressed concerns about splitting up the district. 

“They’re splitting it in half,” he said. “It’s like taking a family of 10 and saying, ‘Five of you go north and five of you go south.’ You’re combining communities that don’t have the same communities of interest, in my opinion. I’m glad that they’re taking input, but I’m not in agreement with the maps that are being proposed, because it cuts the voting power in half. It cuts the community in half. It cuts the school districts in half.”

“I’ve heard a lot of people with a lot of concerns about the preliminary maps,” said Lee. “That’s how the process is supposed to work and I hope the commission is receptive to making modifications consistent with the statutory criteria that these maps are supposed to be drawn upon.

“I know the final decisions, if they are not consistent with the statutory criteria, can go to court. I’m hoping the commission responds to legitimate concerns about breaking up communities of interest.”

The newly released maps appear to address many of the concerns.

When drawing new districts, the redistricting commission must adopt legislative redistricting plans that satisfy several criteria under the Colorado Constitution. According to a June 29 memorandum, those criteria include ensuring population equality, with no more than a “5 percent deviation between the most populous and the least populous district in each house.” Districts also must be contiguous, meaning, “it must be possible to travel to all parts of a district without ever leaving it.” 

Districts also must comply with the Voting Rights Act, which “prohibits a state from enacting a redistricting plan that ‘results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color’ or because a person is ‘a member of a language minority group.’” 

The commission is also required to, as much as reasonably possible, preserve communities of interest. The memorandum defines “communities of interest” as “any group in Colorado that shares one or more substantial interests that may be the subject of state 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.” In addition to communities of interest, commissioners should preserve political subdivisions such as counties, cities and towns, while also ensuring districts are “as compact as reasonably possible.”

Finally, the redistricting commission is tasked with ensuring “politically competitive” districts, which is defined as “having a reasonable potential for the party affiliation of the district’s representative to change at least once between federal decennial censuses.” Currently, HD17 just barely fits that criteria. With the exception of the 2014 election, which was won by Republican Kit Roupe, Democrat Tony Exum has represented HD17.

“If you remember the history, before I ran, since 2006 it changed hands every two years,” said Exum. “A Democrat won in presidential years and a Republican won in midterms. I somewhat broke the curse in 2018 and won in a midterm election, but I lost a midterm election in 2014. People thought that it was going to go back and forth, but I was fortunate enough to do that. I’m term-limited now and I’m just concerned about the next people up running and the impact it’s going to have on them.” 

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.