Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, redistricting Census data has been delayed six months, causing unintended consequences for Denver’s 2022 redistricting and upcoming municipal election.
Redistricting is the process of changing Denver’s 11 City Council district boundaries required by federal and state law. Redistricting happens every 10 years with the release of new Census data to make sure the districts are relatively equal in population.
This year, COVID-19-related delays and the prioritization of apportionment results mean the redistricting Census data won’t be delivered to states until Sept. 30, 2021, instead of the original March 31, 2021, delivery date.
“It’s a huge change which pushes all of our timelines back,” said Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, chair of the redistricting work group. “We all have to be flexible and pivot.”
Before Denver’s redistricting commission can begin its work, the Census data must be released to states, then the State Legislature must approve the maps, then the Clerk and Recorder’s Office must determine new voting precincts and then the City Council must pass redistricting procedure and criteria.
This is a months-long process that is now being met with an unprecedented deadline: the 2023 municipal election.
And according to a timeline Sandoval presented to the City Council budget and policy committee Thursday, it’s going to be very close.
If the Census data is released at the end of September, the State Legislature approval and new voting precincts should be done by the end of December. Redistricting would then begin in January, giving the commission around three months to draw and vet the new boundaries while the City Council passes the procedures and criteria.
“We’ll have to act quickly. We’ll have to have the maps approved by City Council and voted on prior to April,” Sandoval said, adding that the work group is talking to experts about what can be done to address the unintended election consequences.
However, the timeline could get even tighter, with the possibility of Denver moving its municipal elections from May to April.
Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul López is currently determining how to deal with this timing problem. One of the proposed solutions is pushing the municipal election back from May to April, with the runoff remaining in June, so the ballots can be provided 45 days before the runoff.
Though López has not submitted a recommendation yet, five of the seven members of his advisory committee recommended moving the election to April.
If Lopez chooses this recommendation, the proposal would be put on the November ballot and, if approved by voters, the commission will have one less month to finish redistricting in time for the City Council candidate requirement.
There are other ways to address the new requirement, however. Councilman Kevin Flynn, who is on the clerk’s advisory committee, recommended keeping the one month between the municipal and runoff elections, instead using a different ballot form for overseas and military voters.
“I don’t know what Clerk Lopez would recommend but that would have an impact on the calendar,” Flynn said.
In the meantime, Sandoval said the work group is using the delayed Census data to work on expanding community engagement, developing a media plan to keep the community informed and launching a city website to publish redistricting information and updates.
So far, the group has chosen Maptitude as the city’s redistricting software, established a geographic information system contact for when mapping begins and researched best practices of municipal-level redistricting with the University of Colorado in Denver and Colorado Springs.
Sandoval said the group plans to hold seven community meetings over the summer to discuss communities of interest, public values and educate the public on redistricting using the free software Representable, Redistrictr and Dave’s Redistricting App.
Under Denver’s Charter, the 11 districts must be as evenly populated and geographically compact as possible. The districts must also consist of whole voting precincts and should be based around communities of interest.
Because of the passage of Amendments Y and Z in 2018, this redistricting is being led by a redistricting commission rather than the State Legislature for the first time in Colorado’s history.