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Balance of power key to fair redistricting

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me why Portland has so many more legislators than other areas of the state, I’d have a boatload of money!

My answer is always very simple: It’s math.

Every 10 years, when the federal government takes the census, state legislatures across the country start the process of redistricting. Redistricting is the process of redrawing the lines that establish Oregon’s 30 state Senate seats and 60 House seats. Oregon law states that each district “as nearly as practicable, shall” be of equal population. 

There is not a specific number that has been established the districts can deviate; however, the goal is always to be close enough to withstand a court challenge.

In 2011, the state’s total population divided by 60 resulted in a target of 63,851 citizens for each House seat and 127,102 for the 30 Senate seats. The largest variance for a district was 1.5 percent, with most districts having less than 1 percent difference. The lowest difference for a House seat was .05 percent.  

The 2011 redistricting plan was not challenged in court.
It is the legislature’s responsibility to establish and vote on the redistricting map. The plan, in the form of a bill, then goes to the governor to be signed or vetoed. 

In the event the legislature doesn’t agree on a plan or if the governor vetoes the plan, then the Secretary of State has ultimate authority to draw the lines on the map. Yes, one person, has the power to established all legislative districts. This occurred in 2001. 

The governor vetoed the plan passed by the legislature. Then Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, established the legislative districts we had until 2011.

So back to the question of why Portland and the Metro area seem to have such an overwhelming influence in the state. You can see why I said it is simply math: More people live up there so they will have more legislators.

Frankly, it’s more than that. State law says no political party can be advantaged over the other when drawing district lines. 

However, voter registration is public record so it’s easy to know where the Democrats live and where the Republicans live. 

It advantages any party to create a district that has a significant margin for their party.

Of course, it would be difficult to create a Democrat district in parts of this state, such as eastern Oregon.  It would be equally challenging to create a Republican district in Portland.

But nothing prevents the redistricting committee from knowing the registration of people before they draw the lines.
In 2011 one House member was “redistricted” out of his district. He finished his term but at the end of the term he was no longer a resident of the district he had formerly been elected to represent.

I am confident both parties have drawn lines to favor their party. This is why I think balance of power is so important. 

There have been efforts over the years to have a bipartisan panel of judges draw the lines. I would like to see lines drawn based only on the objective criteria listed in state statute, which includes not dividing communities and using natural landmarks. 

I don’t mind a district having more Democrats or Republicans. I mind the process being used to create a political advantage to any one party.