Oregon redistricting measure blocked from November ballot by appeals court decision

By Jeff Mapes (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Sept. 2, 2020 12:07 p.m. Updated: Sept. 2, 2020 3:21 p.m.

Backers of an initiative aimed at ending political gerrymandering in Oregon lost their final legal attempt to win a spot on the November ballot.

Laura Fosmire, a spokeswoman for Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno, confirmed Wednesday that the measure “will not appear on the ballot” as the result of a new decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.


The initiative would have established an independent commission to redraw congressional and legislative district lines to account for population changes. That job is now handled by the Legislature and the governor, meaning that Democrats will likely have full control over the redistricting process next year after the 2020 Census is finished.

The appeals court said there was no way to properly resolve the legal issues in the case before the Thursday deadline for finalizing which measures go on the 2020 Oregon ballot.


Norman Turrill, an Oregon League of Women Voters official and a chief sponsor of the initiative, said he was disappointed by the decision. But he added that backers would continue to push for the “fair, transparent and impartial” redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines in the state. The measure was backed by a coalition of government watchdog groups and business interests — and it was opposed by groups allied with Democrats.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum went to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight legal efforts to place the initiative on the ballot. Her spokeswoman, Karynn Fish, said in a statement that the decision “brings certainty to voters and confirms that there will be no last-minute changes to the ballot.”

Backers of the redistricting initiative failed to get the 150,000 voter signatures required before the normal July 2 deadline for qualifying. But they filed a federal lawsuit saying that they faced severe restrictions in getting the needed signatures because the pandemic forced the shutdowns of many events and businesses. They said that violated their rights to engage in the political process.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane agreed and set a lower signature threshold — 58,789 — that backers were able to meet.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 11 stayed McShane’s order. That left only a narrow path to the ballot. And on Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it was clear the clock was going to run out.

The appeals court said it would send the issue back to Judge McShane for further proceedings on whether accommodations should be made to initiative campaigns if the pandemic continues in future election cycles. One judge, Ryan Nelson, dissented. He said he would declare the whole issue moot since the measure won’t be on the ballot.