Customary Redistricting Timelines
Ordinarily, the United States Census Bureau releases final census population data by March 31st of the year after each decennial census. That release date permits:
• Boards of county commissioners in each county to establish new commissioner districts and boundaries on the basis of population and other statutory factors by the current statutory deadline of September 30, 2021
• Colorado’s independent redistricting commissions to propose and obtain Colorado Supreme Court approval of new congressional and state legislative districts by the December 15 and December 29, 2021, deadlines currently mandated by the State Constitution
• Once the redistricting commissions release the final congressional and legislative districts and boundaries, county clerks can recommend and boards of county commissioners can approve new precinct boundaries (which cannot overlap congressional or legislative districts) by the January 31, 2022, deadline under current law
2020 Census Delays
Due to delays in completing the 2020 census caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau does not expect to release final census population data until September 30, 2021. The six-month delay in releasing final census data has major adverse effects on state and county redistricting in Colorado:
• Counties cannot finalize county commissioner districts by the September 30th deadline under current law
• Colorado’s independent commissions cannot possibly complete all mandated activities and obtain Supreme Court approval of final congressional and legislative districts by December 15th and 29th, respectively
• If final congressional and state legislative districts are delayed beyond end-of-2021, counties will be hard pressed to finalize new voting precincts by the current statutory deadline of January 31, 2022 (which is 29 days before precinct caucuses on March 1st)
• If precinct caucuses cannot be held on March 1st, the deadlines under current law relating to the Primary Election may require substantial revision
The Path Ahead
Independent redistricting commission staff and legislative leadership are aware of the significant problems for redistricting in Colorado as a result of the delayed census data. At some point, appropriate officials may seek a judicial order authorizing the redistricting commissions to deviate from schedule of activities set forth in article V of the Colorado Constitution, or the legislature postpone the Primary Election and related deadlines, or both.
For now, county election staff understands the nature of the timing problems, and we will do as much work as possible on voting precincts in calendar year 2021, in order to minimize the amount of work that must be performed once congressional and legislative districts are ultimately finalized and approved.