When Colorado’s Independent Redistricting Commission released preliminary legislative maps last month, they made two glaring errors: failing to respect the varying needs of Latino communities across the state, and diluting our voting power by creating new maps that reduce the current number of districts where Latinos are able to make a difference with their votes.
The Latino community is well-established in Colorado. Some Latino families have centuries-old roots in the southwestern United States. Spanish colonists grazed sheep in southern Colorado in the 1600s, long before the U.S. took the southwest from México in 1848. Latinos in Colorado are — like most Americans — either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Bottom line: the Latino community in Colorado is not a monolith.
As our population has grown, so has our prominence in the seats of power. Our elected officials — from school boards to the state Senate — continue to deliver for our communities. But Latinos still lack fair representation.
In nearly every measurable category, Latinos are underrepresented in positions of power and overrepresented in rates of housing instability, incarceration, high school dropout, and so many other factors limiting opportunity for healthy and happy lives. For example, Latinos disproportionately bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic because we are overrepresented as essential and frontline workers. Today, as the rest of Colorado recovers, we continue to lag behind in vaccine access and economic recovery.
We deserve good schools, good services, good health, and good jobs. We deserve representation, access to resources, investment, and power commensurate with our population share.
The way to make that happen is to ensure that our elected officials across the state reflect Colorado’s growing Latino population. That requires that Latinos engage in the redistricting process.
In the preliminary maps, the Commission failed to consider that Latinos’ unique communities across the state have unique needs. Indiscriminately lumping us together by redrawing legislative districts to meet population thresholds is unacceptable. The needs of Latinos in the Roaring Fork Valley aren’t the same as the needs of Latinos in metro Denver, or in Pueblo, or Weld County. By indiscriminately drawing brown people together, the commission failed to honor the unique and regional needs of so many Colorado Latinos. It’s disrespectful and defies precedent: the Colorado Supreme Court has already recognized some of these distinctive Latino communities of interest in prior redistricting maps.
The maps also dilute Latino districts across the state, diminishing the influence of Latino voters in the statehouse. In Denver, the preliminary map compounds the harm of gentrification by decreasing the Latino population share in several House and Senate districts by nearly twenty percent. In Adams County, Latino voters in a Senate district are reduced from 50 percent of the population to 32 percent; working-class neighborhoods in Commerce City are clumped together with country club communities and rural towns to the north. Three redrawn districts in Arapahoe County split the diverse and rapidly-growing city of Aurora in ways that contain the influence of Latino voters and other voters of color to two districts, leaving the third district dominated by whiter and wealthier areas to the south. Pueblo and the San Luis Valley, unique Latino communities that have influenced that part of the state since the 1600s, are drawn into the same congressional district as Greeley and Commerce City, resulting in a Congressional district that appears to have Latino influence but merely adds brown people to a district that will still be dominated by wealthy, white communities in Douglas County and rural communities in the Eastern Plains.
Not only do these maps fail to consider the unique needs of Latino communities; they also dilute Latinos’ influence as voters, which is prohibited under the federal Voting Rights Act. There is too much at stake for Latinos to hope the Commission fixes these problems on their own. That is why CLLARO is working to increase awareness and educate Latinos and organizations across the state on the importance of providing public and written testimony. As the redistricting process continues, we will fight to ensure that Colorado’s Latino population is actively engaged and represented in both the conversation and the outcome.
Mike Cortés is the executive director of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy, and Research Organization (CLLARO), a nonprofit organization established in 1964 to help Latinos in Colorado solve problems facing their communities.