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Oregon Redistricting Task Force Wants To Strip Power From Lawmakers


A task force created by Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is recommending that future redistricting be done by an independent commission.

That would be a significant change from the current model, which tasks Oregon lawmakers with drawing up a plan.

Redistricting is the process of drawing new legislative and congressional districts to match shifts in population. It takes place every 10 years, following the U.S. Census. Oregon’s next redistricting will occur in 2021.

The current method of allowing lawmakers to draw the maps is “susceptible to political manipulation,” Richardson wrote in a newsletter announcing the task force report. “There is an inherent conflict of interest in allowing legislators to draw their own districts and pick their own voters.”

Legislative redistricting maps are created as bills that need to be signed by the governor to take effect. That last happened in 2011. The legislation was approved with broad support from both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature, and was signed into law by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

But that’s not always been the case in Oregon. Between 1961 and 2011, every redistricting attempt by the Legislature ended in failure. In some cases, lawmakers simply couldn’t agree, meaning it fell to the secretary of state to draw the maps. In other cases, lawmakers agreed, but the plan was vetoed by the governor. Other times, legal challenges meant the final decision came at the Oregon Supreme Court.

Richardson’s task force recommends that instead of leaving the job to lawmakers, an 11-member independent commission draw up the maps. The commission would include three Democrats, three Republicans, and five people who are either members of other political parties or are unaffiliated. Any plan would have to receive support from at least seven members of the panel, including at least one person from each of the state’s two largest political parties.

Dennis Richardson poses for a portrait on Thursday, March 2, 2017.

Dennis Richardson poses for a portrait on Thursday, March 2, 2017.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

A spokesperson for Richardson said the Republican is talking with GOP lawmakers to try to get the concept introduced as a bill in the 2018 legislative session.

Since the commission is recommending the changes take the form of a constitutional amendment, lawmakers would have to refer the proposal to voters, presumably on the November 2018 ballot.

Democrats, who currently control both the Oregon House and Senate, as well as the governor’s office, are skeptical of the proposal.

“I don’t think the secretary’s made the case for it,” said Oregon Democratic Party Chair Jeanne Atkins, who previously served as Oregon Secretary of State.

Atkins said the 2011 redistricting effort set a standard and that Oregon doesn’t need to follow the likes of California and Washington, which have created independent redistricting commissions similar to the one being proposed by Richardson.

“To jump to the conclusion that we, too, need to change our system just because other states have, I think is an errant jump,” Atkins said.

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