Colorado Supreme Court: Redistricting groups can start with less precise data

Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the two commissions redrawing legislative and congressional districts can use less precise data while waiting for delayed U.S. census results.

Colorado’s commissions will now move ahead with drawing maps — to the relief of commissioners, state election officials and the General Assembly, the latter of which had asked the court to sign off on the idea. An adverse ruling would have thrown the redistricting process and Colorado’s 2022 election schedule into disarray.

The Supreme Court determined 5-2 that Colorado’s Constitution doesn’t “require the exclusive use of final census data as the commissions and their nonpartisan staff begin their work.” As a result, the commissions can “consult other reliable sources of population data, such as preliminary census data and interim data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.”

Every 10 years, states redraw district lines using precise, block-level census data. Due to difficulties conducting the census during the pandemic, that data won’t arrive until August instead of the usual March. Redistricting commissions will adjust and finalize their maps after block-level data arrives and public hearings are held across the state.

In order to determine whether the two redistricting commissions could use preliminary data, the General Assembly introduced a bill telling them to use preliminary data, then asked the Supreme Court whether that bill was constitutional. The court ruled that the legislature cannot force the commissions to use the data but that the commissions can do so on their own volition.

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