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Colorado voters take to polls in secession vote

Nov 5, 2013

Today, the voters of 11 Colorado counties will vote on whether or not they should secede from the rest of the state, creating “North Colorado,” the 51st state in the union. No matter how this vote goes, it’s safe to say that North Colorado will not become a state anytime soon.

Voters don’t have the power to break states up or to create new ones. Article Four of the United States Constitution makes perfectly clear that only Congress has the power to create new states, and given that Congress is about as efficient as a Rube Goldberg machine, there’s no need to replace your 50-state flags.

So, while the people of these Northern Colorado counties (hopefully) understand that this vote is entirely non-binding and largely symbolic, why are they doing this, anyway? In all likelihood, the end goal of the organizers is less an attempt to create a new state, and more an attempt for rural Republicans to re-take control of the state legislature.

Randy Schafer, administrator for Phillips County (population 4,442), has laid out a plan to amend Colorado’s state constitution to specify that each county would have a representative in both the House and the Senate, without regard to the population of these areas.

State legislative districts are more or less divided by population. In Colorado, this means that each of the 65 House districts of the state legislature represent roughly 77,372 constituents; and each of the 35 senators represent 143,691 constituents.

Since 2007, Democrats have had control of the governorship, and in 7 of the last 9 years, have had majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Rumor has it that after secession plans fall through, proponents of the idea will search for a compromise within their own borders, making a push to reformat the state legislature.

If this really is their plan B, it appears the goal would be to change the set-up of the state senate by allocating 2 senators per county, rather than allocating them based on population.  This would mean that San Juan County, home to 699 residents, would have the same representation as Denver County, home to 600,158 residents.

What advocates for legislative redistricting seem to gloss over is the fact that by ignoring population when determining representatives, they’d be putting a disproportionate amount of power into the hands of those in these counties. For example, if someone could gather 700 like-minded individuals, they could take residence in Mineral County (population 712), vote whomever they’d like into office, giving these few hundred individuals the same amount of political clout as the 622,263 residents of El Paso County.

In either case, things don’t look great for the secessionists, nor those in favor of redistricting. Even if these 11 rural counties are able to convince the state’s Democratic leadership into redistricting themselves out of power (which won’t happen), the plan would seem to be in violation of the 1964 Supreme Court ruling in Reynolds v. Sims, a case that specified that state legislature districts needed to be roughly equal in population, making this entire plan unconstitutional.

Sorry, North Colorado. We hardly knew ye.

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