The boundaries that determine state legislative and congressional districts will shift based on the 2020 Census.
The trouble is, the numbers aren’t in yet and the wheels are already in motion, with a looming deadline for the state legislators who will redraw the maps.
Under the Oregon Constitution, they must draw new district maps by July 1 or hand the task over to the Oregon secretary of state.
But the boundaries can’t be redrawn until the 2020 Census numbers are published, which may not be until the end of September. That’s six months later than anticipated.
Census officials cited “COVID-19-related shifts in data collection” as the reason for the delay.
House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney on Wednesday announced they had filed a request with the Oregon Supreme Court for an extension on the deadline. They’re asking the new deadline be set at three months after the Census data is received.
“Oregon is still in crisis. We will need to keep doing the impossible as we build back and recover. Today we made an extraordinary request of the Oregon Supreme Court after an extraordinary year,” Kotek and Courtney said in a joint written statement Wednesday.
Douglas County Clerk Dan Loomis said delays could potentially create problems for the 2022 primary election.
“A candidate could file for a certain office and then the borderlines change or that precinct or district changes after they file for it,” he said.
Some unfortunate politician could even wind up ineligible because their homes are in a different district than the one for which they’ve filed.
Loomis doesn’t take a position on where those boundaries should be drawn.
“I’m an honest broker for all the electors in our county. They come to me and expect me to enforce the districts and precincts that they live in,” he said.
Both state and congressional district lines are based on the principle of creating districts with equal populations. But some areas haven’t seen much population growth, while places like Deschutes County and Washington County have grown substantially. The redrawn districts will have to account for those changes.
Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman was a state legislator during the redistricting process after the 2010 Census.
He said last time, districts were drawn based on party membership of voters in each area and gerrymandered to ensure all the legislators then in office kept their seats — an approach that he disagreed with.
This time, he hopes the legislators focus on drawing districts along lines that keep people with common interests together.
Freeman said the process is inherently biased, with the Legislature being majority Democratic and the secretary of state and governor also being Democrats.
“That in itself leaves rural communities really out of the discussion,” Freeman said.
He said an independent redistricting commission would be a better approach.
“Every legislator has sort of an inherent conflict of interest in that you want to keep your residence in your district and you want to keep your party in control,” he said.
In February hearings, the state House Special Committee on Redistricting heard from representatives of an array of political, business, union and minority groups who urged the legislators to keep together communities with common interests rather than drawing districts to maintain current legislators’ power bases.
A proposed measure calling for the boundaries to be drawn by an independent and nonpartisan commission failed to gain enough signatures by the deadline to get on the November ballot.
It’s possible that Oregon, which currently has five congressional districts, will have grown enough to be assigned a sixth district.
If a sixth congressional district is created, Freeman said the best thing for Douglas County would be a district that encompasses Southern Oregon, so that the same person doesn’t have to represent urban Lane County and the more rural southern part of the state.
However, he said that probably won’t happen because it would create a second Republican U.S. representative in the state, which is currently served by four Democratic representatives and one Republican.
Douglas County residents, and others in the U.S. House District 4 currently served by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, will have a chance to contribute their comments on how the new districts should be drawn in two virtual meetings. The first is scheduled for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, and the second for noon to 2 p.m. April 10.
To sign up to testify at the Tuesday hearing, you can either use the online form at https://survey.sjc1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0kTNdO7b1AtR2vk or register by calling 833-588-4500.
Written testimony can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.