Oregon to redistrict due to population increase


Sept. 8, 2021 — The completion of the 2020 census and the analysis of the data gathered from across the nation, and in Oregon, will be used for a number of purposes, including distribution of federal and state funds, assistance to the disadvantaged and, perhaps most impactfully, the redrawing of congressional districts.

The process of redistricting is constitutionally mandated and the deadlines for incorporating the new population data was extended due to the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The process of publicly discussing redistricting began on Friday, Sept. 3, when the Oregon Legislature released an initial redistricting draft plan. On that day, the state also held a statewide virtual forum to begin the process of determining accurate voter representation for the next 10 years.

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that congressional representatives be apportioned to the states on the basis of population. There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each state is allotted a portion of these seats based on the size of its population relative to the other states. 

Consequently, a state may gain seats in the House if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders that the populations of House districts must be equal "as nearly as practicable."

In Oregon, congressional and state legislative district lines are drawn by the state legislature. District lines are subject to veto by the governor.

If the legislature fails to establish a redistricting plan for state legislative districts, it falls to the secretary of state to draw the boundaries. Oregon currently has five Congressional Districts, and all will be examined and potentially redrawn as a result of this process, while a sixth is going to be added.

U.S. Census Bureau figures from 2021 show the state’s population increased by 10 percent over the past decade to more than 4.2 million, enough to give it an additional congressional district for the first time in 40 years.

“It is exciting that we will gain an additional seat in Congress and Oregonians’ voices will be better represented in Washington D.C.," said state Sen. Kathleen Taylor, a Portland Democrat who is the Senate Redistricting Chair.

The addition of this seat would normally create an advantage for the state’s ruling party, but in this instance the Democrats reached an agreement to share the redistricting responsibilities equally with Republicans in exchange for a commitment from Republican lawmakers to stop delaying Democratic legislative initiatives.

That agreement allows for each party to have three members on the state’s redistricting committees and, if no agreement can be reached on U.S. Congressional boundaries, the redistricting boundaries would be determined by a panel of five judges, one from each of the state’s current districts.

The members of the Redistricting Committee are co-chairs Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis and Rep. Andrea Salinas, along with representatives Daniel Bonham, Winsvey Campos, Khanh Pham and House Republican Leader Christine Drazan.

“Now that we have equal representation on the redistricting committee, our legislative and congressional districts will be drawn in a way that avoids political gerrymandering,” said Drazan, a Canby Republican. “Our current maps have favored one political party over another for the past 20 years, but Oregonians can be confident that this sixth congressional district will be drawn according to the rules to give people fair representation.”

State law requires that congressional and state legislative districts meet the following criteria:

  • Districts must be contiguous. 
  • Districts must "utilize existing geographic or political boundaries." 
  • Districts should not "divide communities of common interest."
  • Districts should "be connected by transportation links." 
  • Districts "must not be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent or other person."

The initial proposal from Democrats to redraw the states districts focuses on counties which have higher rates of population growth, such as Washington County and the Salem region of the state. 

Republicans were focused more on the sixth congressional district, with an eye towards reducing the area of districts currently represented by Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio, increasing them to include more Republican strongholds in rural areas of the state. 

The proposed placement of the six congressional district was not discussed by the committee members, who met remotely by video on Sept. 3. 

A series of virtual public hearings about redrawing the districts will start today, Sept. 8.

Under an order from the Oregon Supreme Court, lawmakers have until Sept. 27 to submit maps. If they cannot pass a plan, or a plan they do pass is vetoed by the governor, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat, will assume responsibility for drawing legislative districts. Congressional districts will be drawn by a judicial panel, under a process that lawmakers created in 2013.

For more information, visit www.oregonlegislature.gov/redistricting.

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