Redistricting in Oregon


Notes by Sally Hollemon

LWVOR President Norman Turrill and LWVOR Redistricting Project Coordinator Candalynn Johnson spoke on A Look at Redistricting: Issues, History and Reform at the November 7 forum to 15 League members and four guests in Loucks Auditorium.

Importance of the Census–The U.S. Constitution requires every resident to be counted in each state. The 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned to the states based on population as are state houses of representatives. Federal funds are distributed according to population for schools, hospitals, roads, public works, etc., so an accurate count of population ensures that each community gets its share of the $675 billion per year in federal funds.

The 2020 census could be especially important for Oregon. Due to an increase in the state’s population, Oregon may receive a sixth congressional district.

Gerrymandering–The U.S. Constitution gives states the power to redraw the lines of both congressional and state legislative districts to reflect the most recent census. Our current single-member winner-take-all election system encourages the political party in power to draw district lines to create safe districts for that party. Computers make it easy for legislators to select their voters. Gerrymandering can also be used to create a district in which a minority group can elect a representative, but this is rare.

Redistricting in Oregon–A legislative committee is created to propose new maps, hold public hearings to gather input and debate the maps, and pass a bill instituting the newly drawn boundaries by August 1. The governor can either approve or veto the maps, in which case the legislature can override the veto with a supermajority vote. If the legislature fails to draw the maps, Diana Bodtker welcomes the audience and introduces the speakers: Candalynn Johnson and Norman Turrill. the secretary of state draws the legislative districts and the Oregon Supreme Court draws the congressional districts.

In Oregon the process rarely works well. During the past 100 years Oregon legislators either failed to draw the boundaries or its map was vetoed by the governor or a lawsuit ensued. An exception was 2011 when the Oregon House was evenly split between the two parties and Senator Courtney wanted an orderly process. So the legislature did a bipartisan gerrymander to protect incumbents in both parties. Since the party in power changes every so often, everyone should want a process that is fair to all, a process in which voters choose their representatives.

Federally Required Criteria–Each district must be of equal population size (Oregon specifically does not allow a deviation of more than 1%). This coincides with the “one person, one vote” doctrine where the districts must be equal so that each legislator represents the same number of people, and the influence of each vote is as equal as possible.

The Voting Rights Act requires special districts that have a majority of a minority population group if that population is large enough to constitute a district and if there are voting patterns specific to the communities of interest. In addition, districts must be contiguous (all parts must be connected) and congressional districts must be single-membered.

Oregon Criteria for Redistricting–Oregon law requires that each district, as nearly as practicable, be contiguous; be of equal population; respect geographic barriers (as they can divide communities); and respect current political boundaries so that districts may be easily identified, communities of interest (defined by shared ethnic, geographic, socio-economic or other shared interests) are protected, and so as to not confuse voters with constantly shifting borders.

In addition, no district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring any political party, incumbent legislator or other person nor dilute the voting strength of any language or ethnic minority group.

Two state House of Representative districts must be wholly included within a single senatorial district.

League Goals for Reform–The League proposes that an independent commission perform the redistricting process, that a backup be more neutral than the partisan Secretary of State, and that a neutral court handle legal challenges related to redistricting. The League also proposes adding a requirement that districts promote competition and an increase of representation; districts should represent people, not geography. The law should specify that redistricting can only occur in the year following the decennial census (to prevent redistricting whenever the majority party changes in the legislature).

The Plan–The League will ask the 2019 Legislature to approve a new redistricting process and to refer a constitutional amendment to voters to allow the new process. If the legislature doesn’t act, an initiative petition is likely.

The League’s redistricting proposal is detailed below. 


What is the Proposed Reform?

A Multipartisan Independent Commission:

This would amend the Constitution of the State of Oregon by repealing the legislative model for an Multipartisan Independent Commission Model to be enacted by the 2021 redistricting session.

The Applicant Review Panel

The first step would be to create a commission applicant review panel. The applicant review panel shall be created by: The Secretary of State, who shall randomly draw names from a pool of all retired judges to sit on the applicant review panel in order to screen applicants for the commission until three are drawn with these requirements:

1 who has been registered for at least two years with the largest political party in this state
1 who has been registered for at least two years with the 2nd largest political party in this state
1 who has not been registered within the last two years with either of the two parties above

How would Commission Applicant Be Screened?

In order to qualify for service and be able to apply for the commission, for at least four years immediately preceding the date of an applicant’s appointment, the applicant must be:

Continuously registered to vote in this state; and
Registered with the same political party or unaffiliated with a political party.

The Secretary of State shall remove individuals with conflicts of interest from the applicant pool if they are or were related to an immediate family member who was in the last 5 years was:

Appointed or elected to, or ran as a candidate for, a federal or state wide office.
An officer, employee or paid consultant of a political party or of the campaign committee of a candidate for elective federal or state office.
An elected or appointed member of a political party central committee.
A registered federal, state or local lobbyist.
A paid employee of the Legislative Assembly or Congress or executive branch of the federal or state governments.
A contributor of $2,000 or more in money, loans or in-kind contributions to any congressional, state or local candidate for elective public office in any year.

And are not staff and consultants under a contract with, or any person with an immediate family relationship with, a member of the Legislative Assembly, a member of Congress or any individual elected to statewide public office.

For a period of 10 years from the time of their appointment until a new commission is selected an appointed commissioner cannot:

Hold any elected public office at the federal, state, county, or city level in Oregon.
Hold any paid or appointed federal, state, or local public office, serve as a paid employee of congress, the legislature, or as a registered paid lobbyist in the state of Oregon.

The Selection of Commissioners

The panel will narrow down the applicants into three pools:

20 applicants who are registered with the largest political party in OR
20 applicants who are registered with the second largest political party in Oregon
20 applicants who are not registered with either of the two largest political parties

In public the Secretary of State will randomly draw 7 names to serve as commissioners as follows:

2 from the largest political party
2 from the second largest political party
And 3 who are not registered with either parties

The Selection of Last Commissioners

Then the first 7 commissioners that were selected will review the remaining applicants for balance and skills, and by a majority, vote for the 4 remaining commissioners as follows:

1 from the largest political party
1 from the second largest political party
And 2 who are not registered with either of the two largest parties

The commission will then select a Chair and Vice Chair, who may not be registered from the same party, and start the process of gathering public input and redrawing district lines.

The Final Commission

The final 11-member commission will then have:

3 members of the largest political party in OR
3 members of the next largest political party in OR
5 members who are not members of the two largest political parties in OR

Before we move on to how we propose this commission goes about making the district maps and I want to address why we are proposing such an extensive process of selecting commission members:

This process is directly drawn from the California process, where an independent multipartisan citizens commission replaced partisan politicians in drawing district lines.
The screening process and the process of selecting commissioners is about having citizens not politicians as map makers and creates a process that removes people who have a conflict of interest from the decision making process.

How would the Independent Commission Operate? 

Members of the commission would be compensated.

The commission will comply with state law governing public records and meetings

Official actions by the commission requires a vote of 7 or more and 7 commissions constitutes quorum.

In order for a map to be passed, there must be a vote of 7 or more in the affirmative, At least one of those votes belonging to a member of the commission from the largest and second largest party and 1 from neither party.

They will hold at least 10 hearings in locations across the state before proposing a final map

At least 1 hearing must be held in each congressional district before approval of the proposed map.

Commission members and staff may not communicate with or receive communications about redistricting matters from anyone outside of a public hearing. This does not prohibit communication between commission members, staff, legal counsel, and consultants.

Members are required to give appropriate notice for the time and locations of public meetings or hearings.

Records and data used by the commission must be posted in a manner that ensures immediate and widespread public access.

Certified maps, if challenged, are to be reviewed and approved by the Oregon Supreme Court if an appeal is accepted.

Commission’s Required Criteria

What would be the commission’s required criteria for redrawing districts?

The same federal requirements would apply to redrawing districts, along with the additional requirements added to the Oregon Statutes such as:

To the extent practicable, redistricting maps shall:

  • Be designed in a manner that achieves both partisan fairness and, secondarily, competitiveness;
  • Preserve the geographic integrity of communities of interest, cities, counties, school districts, and special districts;
  • Establish district boundaries that follow permanent and easily recognizable geographic features, such as rivers or controlled-access highways;
  • Limit the amount of time it would take to travel across each district, taking into account the number of legislators selected per district.
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