Mail Tribune: Give redistricting measure another chance
Oregon’s system of redrawing congressional and legislative districts after each Census leaves the job up to the Legislature, with the secretary of state serving as backup if lawmakers cannot agree. That means this time around, with Democrats firmly in control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, they get to draw the new map without Republican participation.
A coalition including business groups, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause formed the political action committee People Not Politicians to change the process by amending the Oregon Constitution to create a 12-member redistricting commission comprising four Democrats, four Republicans and four members of minor parties or no party. Amending the state Constitution requires a vote of the people, and putting an amendment on the ballot required the group to gather 149,360 valid signatures by July 2.
The COVID-19 lockdown made it impossible to gather signatures in person, and the group asked Republican Secretary of State Bev Clarno to extend the deadline. When she refused, they filed suit. On July 10, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ordered Clarno to either accept as valid the 60,000 signatures the group had turned in or extend the deadline to Aug. 17 and require 58,789 valid signatures — the number required in 2018 for referendum petitions. Clarno chose the latter option.
Rosenblum, a Democrat, is challenging McShane’s ruling, arguing that it requires the state to violate its own constitutional provisions for amendments.
That’s an understandable reaction, if proponents could try again to gather signatures for next year’s ballot, but they won’t have another chance to change the redistricting rules until 2030, when the next Census occurs. And allowing the petitioners to proceed won’t amend the Oregon Constitution. Only the voters can do that, and there is no guarantee they will.
Not surprisingly, Democrats in the Legislature and their supporters oppose the idea. Our Oregon, a union-backed nonprofit that opposes the measure, has sued People Not Politicians, arguing the initiative is unconstitutional. That lawsuit is still pending.
Democrats want to preserve their opportunity to redraw political boundaries without Republican input. Every other redistricting going back 50 years has required negotiation between the parties, and only twice did the Legislature agree on a plan — in 1981 and in 2011. Before that, the last successful legislative redistricting was in 1911. Every other time, the secretary of state or the Oregon Supreme Court ended up drawing the lines.
Redistricting is an extremely complex task, requiring those drawing the lines to consider geography as well as “communities of interest.” The goal is to have districts with as close to equal population as possible.
Giving one party the power to draw the boundaries virtually guarantees a court challenge from the other party. A bipartisan, independent commission is much preferable. If McShane’s order is not overturned on appeal, it appears that option will be on the November ballot. At that point, the decision will be up to Oregon voters, as it should be.