DENVER (AP) — After booming population growth over the past decade, Colorado will gain an eighth U.S. House seat after the release Monday of new U.S. Census Bureau data. The bulk of the growth occurred in the Denver metropolitan area.

Colorado’s population rose by 14.8% over the past decade, according to the Census data, or from 5 million in 2010 to nearly 5.8 million in 2020. Across the 50 U.S. states, total population reached 331.4 million in 2020, a 7.4% increase from 2010.

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Drafting a map including all eight congressional districts in Colorado will be done by a citizens redistricting commission that was established after voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018.

The measure removed the task from lawmakers, political parties and the governor with the hope of making it less partisan. The new commission consists of four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated citizens — none of them current or recent officeholders.

Any final plan would require eight “yes” votes, including two from the independents, before it is submitted to the state Supreme Court.

Democrats currently hold a 4-3 edge over Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.

A similar panel is charged with redistricting state legislative seats. The process begins with nonpartisan legislative staff drawing preliminary boundaries based on the Census data released Monday.

Colorado is one of six states to gain additional U.S. House seats along with Texas, Montana, Florida, North Carolina and Oregon. Texas gained two seats while the other states each got onet.

Colorado last gained seats after the release of Census data in 1980 and 2000. Disputes over party-drawn maps forced the courts to step in to choose district maps in three of the last four redistricting cycles.

The 2018 initiative amended the Colorado Constitution to explicitly prohibit gerrymandering while seeking to keep intact communities of interest, such as racial or ethnic groups, agricultural and other regions, as well as cities and counties.

The commission also must “maximize the number of politically competitive districts.” That’s a hard task on the congressional level. Only one district — suburban Denver’s 6th — has swung in recent years, given Colorado’s stark urban-rural divide. It’s held by two-term Democratic Rep. Jason Crow.

“The rural areas of Colorado are going to be Republican and the Denver-Boulder-Fort Collins axis is going to be Democrat,” said Bernie Buescher, an attorney and former Democratic state representative and secretary of state who helped write the constitutional amendment.

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“You can’t make every seat competitive. But that language is now in the Constitution and you want to force the commission to make them as competitive as you can,” he said.

That means involving unaffiliated voters, now the state’s largest voting bloc.

Uncertainty over new boundaries for all districts hasn’t stopped several Democrats from challenging controversial first-term GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s largely rural 3rd District.

Among them is state Sen. Kerry Donovan, considered a rising star among the state’s Democrats. Donovan entered the 2022 race against Boebert, an outspoken gun rights advocate who voted against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election, despite not knowing if her Vail-area residence will remain in the district.

The just-seated redistricting commission must contend with the delay in community-level U.S. Census reapportionment data until late August or early fall. Current deadlines require the panel to submit maps by Sept. 1.

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Beall warned commissioners on April 7 that the delay could have a cascading effect that, among other things, would force a postponement of the June 2022 congressional primaries by a month and jeopardize statutory dates for caucuses and state assemblies. Colorado’s 64 counties also would be squeezed. By law, they must draw precinct maps within new congressional and legislative districts by Jan. 31, 2022.

“It would be an absolute miracle” if counties can draw precinct maps by that deadline, said Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes.

Beall urged the commission to use the preliminary data as much as it can and ensure the courts sign off on any changes. A bill moving through the Legislature is designed to allow the panel — and the courts — to do that.

Beall’s warning came after the commission’s first chair was removed from that role over social media posts in which he made unfounded claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election and referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” Republican Danny Moore remains on the panel.

By JAMES ANDERSON, Associated Press

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