Oregon redistricting

Legislative leaders and members of the redistricting committees look on as Gov. John Kitzhaber signs a bill implementing new legislative districts in 2011. Oregon lawmakers successfully drew new districts for the first time in decades. To Kitzhaber’s right is Suzanne Bonamici, then a state senator.

Democrats hold Oregon’s fate in their hands — at least for the near term.

The party has a three-fifths supermajority in the state Capitol this legislative session, gained through a fair election process that has edged in their favor over the past decade. They also have the governor’s seat, which means if Democrats are united behind a bill or budget, there’s little that can stop it from passing.

It’s not because of some conspiracy or an unequal playing field. Oregon voters simply lean left, when considered as a whole, and the state’s districts are a fairly accurate assessment of where the voters’ allegiances lie.

This accuracy is largely due to the fact that in 2011, the last time the boundaries were drawn for electoral districts, the Oregon House was divided equally between Democrats and Republicans. That even split didn’t keep politics or contention out of the process, but did produce legislative maps that both parties could agree upon.

It was the first time since the 1950s that the legislature was able to complete the task on deadline without intervention by the secretary of state or courts.

As the 2020 census nears, new districts will be drawn. It is likely this will even include carving out a sixth U.S. House district for the state of Oregon.

It’s crucial that this process isn’t dominated by a single party, no matter how much that party’s ideologies and policies may be in favor right now.

We urge serious consideration of the plan to move the responsibility from the legislature to a nonpartisan committee consisting of people from all corners of the state, who can attest to logical boundaries and balanced representation.

The unfairness of gerrymandering, as it has come to be known, is well documented in states around the country. The balance of a district can be tilted with some clever strokes of the pen, spreading already minority voters thinner and effectively eliminating their voice. It’s a tactic that has been employed successfully by both parties in an effort to solidify power.

And it’s bad for democratic representation. No matter a person’s political leanings, they must vote with the assurance that their ballot hasn’t been rigged into irrelevancy by their own representatives.

As the saying goes, voters should pick their lawmakers and not the other way around.

Late Secretary of State Dennis Richardson was a champion of reform. A redistricting task force in 2017 recommended the job be handled by an independent commission in an open setting with clear criteria for the new boundaries. It would follow models in California and Washington.

It’s a critical task. Our population shifts and changes over time, and making sure that voters aren’t overlooked keeps our democracy functioning.

No party should have the upper hand when it comes to deciding voting districts for the next decade. That’s why we are in favor of amending Oregon’s constitution to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission to redraw legislative districts after each census.

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