A truly independent commission should determine where the boundaries of the state legislative and congressional districts should be set after they’re redrawn in 2021, according to the League of Women Voters of Oregon.
A small group of League of Women Voters Umpqua Valley members attended a forum at the Roseburg Public Library Thursday at which they heard Norman Turill, president of the state league, discuss the best way to ensure fairness for all voters when those districts are drawn.
The districts are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census is taken and are based on population. In Oregon, as in most states, the lines are drawn by state legislators.
But Turill said that can lead to unfair results that favor the party in power. In Oregon’s case, that’s the Democrats.
Turill said it’s particularly important now since increases in Oregon’s population could give the party an additional congressional district in 2021, bringing the total to six. He said it’s likely Oregon’s sixth district would center on the rapidly growing city of Bend.
Candalynn Johnson, who lobbies for the league in Salem, explained there are several common ways to draw new district lines unfairly, also known as gerrymandering.
A party in power can draw districts that lump together the minority party’s voters into the fewest possible districts. Or, they can split up all the districts in a way that ensures every individual district contains more members of their own party, she said.
A minority party can even gerrymander districts in a way that gives them the majority in as many districts as possible, giving them a stronger legislative power than justified by the number of voters in their party.
It’s also common for a bipartisan group to draw districts that each contain mostly members of one party, leaving current incumbents in safe districts. That’s the type of redistricting that the Oregon legislature performed in 2011, she said, when it was more evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
The league plans to introduce a bill in the legislature soon that would take redistricting out of the legislators’ hands altogether. It would create an 11-person independent redistricting commission to draw the districts. Three members would come from the biggest political party in the state, currently the Democrats, and three from the second biggest, currently the Republicans. The other five would not be members of either party.
A panel of judges would narrow down applicants for the redistricting commission to three pools of 20 eligible candidates — Democrats, Republicans and candidates who are not members of either party. Then the Secretary of State would randomly draw from those three pools to pick two Democrats, two Republicans and three who are neither. That makes seven commissioners, who would then choose four more, one from each of the two major parties and two not registered with either. And that group of 11 would then create the new districts.
It’s complicated, but the goal is to take the control away from entrenched political parties and give it back to the voters, Johnson said.
“We want citizens, not politicians, drawing district lines,” she said. “We want to remove those conflicts of interest.”
Johnson said the league’s plan is similar to one used in California, where it increased the number of districts evenly divided enough to make races genuinely competitive.
There are other groups proposing different plans for Oregon’s redistricting process, with one initiative petition and two additional bills expected to be put forward.
“There’s no one way to do it. We think we have a good way,” Turill said.
The League of Women Voters is open to men, and Turill was one of its first male members.
For more information about redistricting and the league’s proposal, visit redistrictingmatters.org.