November 12, 2021 | NEWS | By Eli Jaynes | Photo courtesy of the Denver Post
On Nov. 1, the Colorado Supreme Court approved the state’s new congressional map, which includes the brand-new eighth congressional district.
Colorado gained an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after the results from the 2020 census showed a 14.6% increase in the Centennial State’s population between 2010 and 2020.
Other growing states in the west like Montana and Oregon picked up seats, while states like California and New York lost seats in their House delegation. The new seat in Colorado will be up for grabs in the 2022 election and the winner will take office in 2023.
In addition to picking up a new congressional seat, the redistricting process itself looked quite different in Colorado this year. In 2018, Colorado voters approved amendments Y and Z, which created two independent redistricting commissions to draw the state’s congressional and legislative maps in an attempt to minimize partisan influence.
The 12-member congressional commission is made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and four unaffiliated voters. The commission aims to take redistricting power out of the hands of lawmakers and political parties and cut down on partisan gerrymandering.
With the addition of Colorado’s eight seats, 167 of the 435 U.S. House seats will be drawn by a bipartisan or independent commission. The remaining districts are drawn by partisan state legislatures or exist in small states with just a single House district.
After months of deliberation and hours of public hearings and testimony, the commission eventually agreed on a final map on Sept. 28. The map was adopted by an 11-1 vote in the commission and submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court on Oct. 1. A month later, the Supreme Court unanimously approved the final proposal.
The final map places the new eighth district just north of Denver, stretching through the northern suburbs up to Greeley. The new district will likely be the most competitive in the state, as data from previous elections shows Democrats with a one or two percentage-point advantage. The eighth will also be one of the most diverse districts in the state, with nearly 40% of voters identifying as Hispanic.
Now, what does all this mean for Colorado Springs?
The Springs sits in Congressional District Five, which has been represented by Republican Doug Lamborn since 2007. Lamborn has consistently enjoyed at least a 20-percentage point advantage over any Democratic challenger to his seat. Under the old congressional map, District Five stretched from the eastern border of El Paso County all the way west into the mountain counties of Park, Teller, Chaffee, and Fremont.
The new map significantly consolidates the district to include only Colorado Springs and its surrounding suburbs. District 5 no longer includes the four mountain counties to the west, or the eastern third of El Paso County. The district will now lie entirely inside El Paso County.
Beth Malmskog, a math professor at Colorado College who studies redistricting, says that Congressional District Five is now a much more focused district. She says that Colorado Springs has grown so much in the past 10 years that the district had to shed a significant amount of area in order to match its population with the state’s seven other districts. As a result, District Five is now almost entirely centered around Colorado Springs.
Even with these changes, Malmskog does not predict too much change in how the district will vote. She thinks that by losing the western mountain regions and the eastern plains, District Five will lose some reliably conservative voters, but she does not see that doing much to hurt the Republican advantage in the district.
“Colorado Springs is one of the most conservative big cities in the country,” Malmskog said. Therefore, losing some rural voters will not do much to make the district competitive.
John Mikos, a chairman of the El Paso County Democrats, is slightly more optimistic about the new map for District Five. “If I only had two maps to pick from, the new one that was just drawn, or the old one, I would pick the new one,” Mikos said.
Mikos believes that the demographic trends in El Paso County are becoming more favorable for Democrats. He sees Colorado Springs moving gradually towards the Democratic Party as the city diversifies and attracts younger, more liberal voters, while the eastern plains and mountain counties remain staunchly conservative. In his mind, shedding these rural regions will help Democrats in District Five.
While Congressional District Five will likely be represented by a Republican for the foreseeable future, the race for the seat in 2022 will help determine how competitive the seat will be for the decade to come.