For Colorado Republicans, the results of the 2022 election were obviously terribly disappointing. In addition to staggering losses in every state election, Republican representation in the state legislature fell to modern lows: just 19 out of 65 seats in the House of Representatives and 12 out of 35 seats in the Senate.
On these pages recently, Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy attributed at least part of the plight of Colorado Republicans to gerrymandering. As the four Republican members of the 2021 Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, we disagree with that conclusion.
The 2021 House of Representatives maps, and particularly the Senate maps, have generated far more competitive seats and far less secure seats for both parties. The results are exactly what the country’s constitution, as overwhelmingly amended by voters in 2018, called for.
What drove Republicans to historic lows? Republicans lost every competitive race in voting in 2022. With the commission drawing far more competitive districts than before, both parties were more exposed. Each had the potential for higher profits, but smaller minorities than before. Districts are either safe or competitive, they cannot be both. Republicans were given the chance to achieve majorities, particularly in the Senate. That Republicans lost all competitive seats, including Republicans, is not the card’s fault.
Let’s talk about fairness, something the authors put at the heart of their argument. Partisan justice is not a constitutionally mandated outcome, but it was something the commission was well aware of. Cronin and Loevy use a flawed measure of fairness in their characterization of the card as a Gerrymander. They propose that each party should win a number of seats roughly proportional to the percentage of votes that party’s candidates received nationwide.
In fact, Republican candidates for the state house in Colorado received more votes than Democratic candidates in 2012, 2014, and 2016, but Republicans fell far short of majorities. However, the Colorado constitution requires something else: maximizing the number of “competing” districts that each party can win. Additionally and importantly, competitiveness can only be maximized by respecting other priority criteria such as:
Rather, a much better way to measure fairness is to look at the performance of the median district in each chamber by looking at the state as a whole. The Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission conducted an average of eight statewide races to determine the underlying partisan leanings of each proposed district. The national average of those eight races? Republican candidates averaged 43.9%; the Democrats 51.5%. That gives Democrats a 7.6 percentage point advantage over Republicans nationally.
Here’s the result of that analysis: The middle Senate district (the 18th district, if you rank the 35 districts from most Republican to most Democrat) contains a 5.1 percentage point Democratic advantage, meaning it’s 2.5 points more Republicans than the state as a whole. The middle House district (the 33rd district, if you rank the 65 districts from most Republican to most Democrat) has a 7.1 point Democratic advantage, making it 0.5 point more Republican than the state as a whole.
Unlike the maps adopted in 2011, which placed the middle district far to the left of the state as a whole, the 2021 maps produced maps that slightly favored Republicans. The result was simply a function of the commission’s efforts to create competitive districts. We believe the 2022 election results were clearly the result of a blue wave in Colorado.
Even consider Republican-leaning rival seats like HD 16 in central El Paso County. By any measure, the district, while competitive, tipped somewhat in the Republican favor. By national standards, it was 2.2 percentage points more Republican than the rest of the nation. By the standards of the Redistribution Commission, the GOP fell 3.1 percentage points. It was a district that Republican statewide candidates typically won in elections between 2016 and 2020, but it went Democratic. So was House District 43 in Douglas County, which was far to the right of the nation as a whole.
If the commission’s goal had been to try to draw secure seats that reflected Colorado’s underlying Democratic advantage, surely our Democratic commissioners would have happily relented. Drawing a map of 20 to 21 safe Democratic Senate districts and 14 to 15 safe Republican districts would have been easy, but it would have given Republicans no chance of winning a majority, since the more safe Republican seats you create, the less likely it is actually achieve a majority. And more importantly, it would not have adhered to the clear language of the constitution, as adopted by voters, directing the commission to create competitive districts. We can assure our Colorado colleagues that the Commission has taken its duty under Amendment Z seriously.
The cards adopted in 2021 were not perfect. In our opinion, the house map in particular could have been improved, but the commission compromised and worked hard to produce fair and legal maps, which after final review were unanimously approved by the Colorado Supreme Court. The 2022 election is not an indictment of the cards, but rather a demonstration of the cards’ achievements; In a blue wave, many seats turn blue.
Now it’s up to Republicans to put together a winning message and a red wave. When that happens, they will be impressed with the results.
Hunter Barnett, John Buckley, Connie Hass, and Aislinn Kottwitz served as four Republican commissioners on Colorado’s 2021 Independent Legislative Redimstricting Commission.