Mutual Political Disarmament: How Two Reform Groups Overcame Differences to Create Fairer Districts in Colorado, 2015–2021


In Colorado, as in most US states, politicians long controlled the process of drawing federal- and state-level legislative districts and manipulated district boundaries to secure political advantage. Dismayed by the tug-of-war that the process unleashed during the 2001 and 2011 redistricting cycles, in March 2015 a bipartisan group of former legislators assembled a coalition to promote adoption of an independent citizen redistricting commission. The coalition could pursue two routes to enactment: either it could get its proposal onto the ballot through Colorado’s citizen initiative process, or it could try to win support in both chambers of the state legislature. Both routes were difficult, and success depended on offering a model that would appeal to political heavyweights, advocacy groups, both major parties, and a growing contingent of politically independent voters. The Democratic Party was all but certain to control the next redistricting process, and it would not give up that advantage without a fight. To succeed, Fair Districts Colorado would have to cooperate and compromise with the party’s progressive wing. After collaborating with progressives to create a shared proposal and after launching a statewide communications campaign, well-connected coalition members were able to convince all members of both of the legislative chambers to put two constitutional amendments for an independent redistricting process in front of voters, who approved them in a landslide in 2018. In 2021, the inaugural Colorado Independent Congressional and Legislative Redistricting Commissions convened and created maps that scored well on metrics of competitiveness and representation despite having to work under challenging time constraints as well as pandemic-related logistical complications.

Alexander Vanderklipp drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Colorado from January to April 2024.

voting rights act
citizen ballot initiative
independent redistricting
bipartisan agreement
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Coalition Building
Election schedules
Core Challenge
Institution Independence
Trust and legitimacy
Country of Reform
United States
Case Studies
Al Vanderklipp