Elbert County’s new map reshapes commissioner districts

Lines are adjusted to equalize population

Chancy J. Gatlin-Anderson
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 1/4/22

The three Elbert County commissioners approved a new map of their districts on Nov. 17 after a nearly two-month-long series of discussions with the county clerk and recorder, representatives from …

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Elbert County’s new map reshapes commissioner districts

Lines are adjusted to equalize population

Posted
The three Elbert County commissioners approved a new map of their districts on Nov. 17 after a nearly two-month-long series of discussions with the county clerk and recorder, representatives from both major political parties, and residents of Elbert County.
 
The new districts will stay in place for ten years and will be redrawn after the 2030 United States Census. Redistricting to balance county population is required by law after each census.
 
Elbert County is 1,852 square miles in size, Commissioner Grant Thayer explained by email to the Elbert County News, and “each County Electoral District, by statute, must have a similar population of about 8,700 people.” As of the 2020 census, District 1, represented by Chris Richardson, had a population of 8,715; District 2, represented by Rick Pettitt, had 8,680; and District 3, represented by Thayer, had 8,667.
 
The new map consists of a new eastwardly extended District 2, creating three distinct groupings within the county: District 1 is a high-density district with communities like Spring Valley Ranch; District 2 is a municipal district including the towns of Elizabeth, Kiowa, and Simla; and District 3 is a sprawling agricultural district.
 
“The majority of the significantly subdivided lands are located in the northwest portion of the county and therefore a logical district because of its population density,” Thayer wrote. “Districts 2 and 3 are mostly agricultural and logical districts because of geography and population similarity.”
 
In an email correspondence from Dec. 27, Commissioner Richardson outlined what he sees as the benefits of the new map:
 
1. It provides the most balanced population in each district without simply increasing the land mass of District 3 and further reducing the size of Districts 1 and 2.
 
2. It provides two districts that cover a large land mass with some development and large agricultural areas and a single compact district (a nearly fully developed/suburban area).
 
3. It provides potential for a variety of Board of County Commissioners compositions.
 
4. The map had bipartisan support by both major political parties.
 
The new map, however, has come under scrutiny by some locals who are concerned that Commissioner Richardson is no longer living in the district that he represents.
 
Colorado Revised Statue 30-10-306(4) states that “If a district is revised or altered in accordance with this subsection (4) in a manner that excludes the residence of a county commissioner elected to represent the district, the county commissioner remains eligible and may continue to hold the office of county commissioner until his or her term of office expires.”
 
Richardson’s email correspondence with the Elbert County News aims to put concerned citizens at ease. “I believe the new map makes sense as Commissioners are elected at large and serve the entire population of the county,” said Richardson. “It also allows much greater freedom in the drawing of district boundaries in order to focus on what’s best for the future versus who happens to currently be in office.”
 
Richardson continued to explain that in the case of the newly adopted district map, all three commissioners will be representing new areas of the county in some capacity.
 
“Approximately two-thirds of District 1 now falls within the boundaries of the old District 1 and I am confident in my ability to represent the new area north of Singing Hills Road,” said Richardson. Districts 2 and 3 are also now comprised of areas that were once in other numbered districts, so Commissioners Pettitt and Thayer also have some new areas to represent.”
 
The new map also bisects the Spring Valley Ranch community by County Road 17/21, separating the new builds in District 1 from the established homes in District 3, leaving one resident perplexed.
 
“I find it odd that the Commissioners would separate a neighborhood like that,” said Sara Cuthbert of Spring Valley Ranch. “We are one neighborhood and share an HOA. Dividing us into two districts doesn’t make sense.”
 
Byron McDaniel, Spring Valley Ranch HOA vice president, gave some insight into this decision in a short email correspondence from Dec. 29.
 
“I can’t speak on behalf of the HOA board, but from my personal perspective, the decision came down to equaling the number of voters in each district. I attended the County Board meeting and saw the options that they had, and having to split Spring Valley Ranch was the best option to equalize the districts,” commented McDaniel. “I think the County Commissioners made the right choice and I support their decision.”
 
McDaniel continued to say that the division shouldn’t have a significant impact on the community.
 
“The commissioners work together very well and if there is an item or decision large enough to reach the level of the board, then it is going to take input from all three,” said McDaniel. “At the end of the day, splitting the neighborhood by a district line isn’t going to really impact SVR.”
 
As a general comment regarding the potential impact of the new district map, Commissioner Richardson hopes to put Elbert County residents at ease. “I see very little impact from these changes, as we have always made it a point that we each serve all the citizens,” said Richardson. “Our decisions are always based on what is best for the county as a whole and not just what is best for our immediate neighbors.”
 
Commissioner Pettitt was on vacation when the Elbert County News attempted to reach him for comment.
 
To read Colorado Revised Statute 30-10-306(4), please visit tinyurl.com/commissionerstatute.

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