Analysis: Council districts redrawn

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Every four years, the Colorado Springs city clerk is required by law to redraw the six city council district boundaries. Here’s how it works, according to a city press release.

  • Only complete El Paso County voting precincts will be moved from one district to another.
  • The preliminary district report will be released on Sept. 28.
  • A public hearing to received feedback on that report will be on Oct. 18.
  • The final district report, setting the district boundaries for the next four years, is tentatively set for release on Nov. 14.
  • There is no approval of any plan by the city council or mayor.
  • Districts must be substantially equal in population, contiguous and comply with the Voting Rights Act, city charter and city code.

It’s an interesting process in that it removes city officials entirely from the process. City Clerk Sarah Johnson, subject to the above conditions, has sole authority and responsibility. She draws the new boundaries, listens to public input and makes her decision. If neighborhood advocates, council incumbents or political advocates don’t like it, too bad — Johnson is in charge.

“Someone told me that only election nerds care about redistricting,” said Johnson while introducing the preliminary districting report. “I’m definitely an election nerd!”

In going through the process, Johnson was assisted by a seven-member advisory committee chaired by longtime community activist Dave Munger.

According to the city, “The advisory committee, appointed by city council on May 24, was charged to oversee the public process, educate the public, assist the city clerk and advise city council on the redistricting process. The committee conducted seven meetings to solicit input from the public. The committee prepared a preliminary advisory committee report which was submitted to the city clerk and city council at the Aug. 8, city council work session. The committee will prepare a final advisory committee report which will be submitted to city council in November or December.

As submitted, the preliminary report makes several small changes and one substantial change.

  • Much of the thinly populated but geographically extensive Banning-Lewis Ranch is moved from District 4 to District 6.
  • Precincts 107, 108 and 111 move from the southern boundary of District 1 to the northern boundary of District 3. District 1 gains precincts 125, 148 and 152 from District 6, which in turn gains precinct 163 from District 2, while District 4 gets precinct 601 from District 3. Finally, District 5 gets precinct 178 from District 3.

Did any council incumbents get moved into a new district? Apparently not, but that shouldn’t be a consideration.

“They shouldn’t even know those addresses,” said Deb Walker of Citizens Project. “It’s just not relevant.”

The maps generally pleased Munger.

“The Westside is together now,” he said, “as are some formerly split neighborhood associations.”

In explaining the maps, Johnson noted that the ideal population per district would be 73, 284. Given the legal parameters, such uniformity can’t easily be achieved — nor should it be.

The proposed districts all deviate from the ideal, ranging from 844 below (District 6) to 674 above (District 4). Such disparities aren’t entirely accidental.

“District 6 is where a lot of growth is likely to occur in the next four years,” said Johnson, “ So starting out below the ideal makes sense.”

This isn’t Johnson’s first rodeo. Four years ago she had to create six districts out of four, thanks to a charter amendment suggested by former Mayor Lionel Rivera. It was a difficult and contentious process, one that Johnson handled with steely aplomb. This one should be far less difficult, but we’ll see — you never know how many election nerds might surface at the Oct. 18 meeting.