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A regional public media collaboration serving the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

To Limit Gerrymandering, Colorado Redistricting Decisions May Go To Voters, Not Politicians

This 1812 political cartoon in the Boston Gazette is considered to be the origin of the term "gerrymander."
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center
This 1812 political cartoon in the Boston Gazette is considered to be the origin of the term "gerrymander."

A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers kicked off an anti-gerrymandering this month. They want to take redistricting decisions out of the hands of state legislators and put it into the hands of twelve voters.

Under the proposed measures, non-partisan legislative staff would draw the initial maps and the voters -- evenly split between Republicans, Democrats and independents -- would make the final call. Those voters would be chosen from a pool of applicants by lottery and by retired judges.

Redistricting happens every ten years after the census. When politicians are in charge of the process, they sometimes redraw voter maps in ways that help their own parties, but hurt minorities or independent voters.

“The perception is the game may be rigged,” says David Damore, a political scientist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who has studied redistricting in the Mountain West.

He says population growth in our region could make redistricting an increasingly important issue because more and more voters aren't affiliated with a political party.

“But probably the bigger challenge is if you draw the districts, say, at start of the decade and then you have tremendous growth and you don’t redistrict during the decade, you get really disproportionate districts,” he says.

The bipartisan legislation has passed the Senate and the House.  Colorado voters will decide if it becomes law in November.

Damore says lately, other Western states have also been moving to take redistricting decisions out of the hands of politicians.

Gerrymandering has been going on in the U.S. since 1812, when a Massachusetts governor with the last name Gerry redrew state senatorial districts to consolidate votes for one party. A cartoonist drew the districts as a dragon-like creature that he dubbed the “Gerry-mander.”

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Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
Rae Ellen Bichell
I cover the Rocky Mountain West, with a focus on land and water management, growth in the expanding west, issues facing the rural west, and western culture and heritage. I joined KUNC in January 2018 as part of a new regional collaboration between stations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Please send along your thoughts/ideas/questions!
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