Every ten years, the U.S. takes a census of all the people in the country. The 2020 census data indicate a 10% population growth in our state and thus the need for revisiting the boundaries of the voting districts. And so, for the first time in 40 years, Oregon lawmakers have to redraw voting districts. However, since 1911, there have been only two successful instances when the state legislator’s agreement led to redrawing of the district boundaries.
Oregon will add a sixth district and a sixth elected official to the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats and Republicans, according to the Associated Press News, both agree that the sixth district should be located south of Portland, but while Democrats envision it west of I-5, Republicans want to place it east of the interstate.
With four Oregon representatives identifying as Democrat and one as Republican, creating a sixth district may not shift the current balance in the state, unless the districts’ shape and area are made very creatively.
The seven-day session devoted to the redistricting process, under the oversight of the committee co-chaired by Rep. Andrea Salinas (D) and Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis (R), will end Sept. 27, as prescribed by the Oregon Supreme Court. Should the legislators come to an agreement, the deadline for filing objections by the electors is set for Oct. 25, after which Nov. 22 will be the deadline for the Oregon Supreme Court to file its opinion on whether or not it approves the plan.
In case the legislators do not reach an agreement on a plan for redistricting by Sept. 27, the decision will fall to the Secretary of State, Shemia Fagan (D) with a deadline of Oct. 18. The subsequent timeline for the next actions will be delayed accordingly.
For the full gory details, see this website from Ballotpedia.
In the meantime, public hearings in the congressional districts on the topic will take place between Sept. 8 and 13. Corvallis is in District 4, and District 4 hearings will take place today, Sept. 9, at 5:30 p.m. in Eugene, and on Sept. 10 at 9 a.m. in Salem.
Oregon groups have already begun to disagree about proposed plans. Our Oregon and Fair Maps Oregon have both expressed concerns and are calling affected citizens to action to testify during the public hearings.
In the State Senate and State House, the number of seats will remain unchanged, making it 60 House districts and 30 Senate districts with each senate district having two house seats. However, the areas of the districts gaining population the fastest will shrink to compensate for equal representation.
In the opinion of David Gomberg, the State Representative from District 10, redistricting may have a huge impact on local politics and resources.
“We presently have four districts in the Oregon House that stretch primarily along our coast. But imagine for a moment if Florence were paired with Eugene, Newport and Toledo with Corvallis, Lincoln City with Salem and Tillamook with McMinnville. We’d essentially have more Valley dominated districts and coastal voices would be diminished,” Gomberg wrote. “To some degree that is the case now with Sheridan, Grand Ronde, and Falls City which were added to our House District ten years ago. I visit them and advocate for them as much as I can. But it is an hour from the coast to Falls City in Polk County and I have to drive out of the district through Dallas to get there. They are frustrated. They don’t feel they belong in a ‘coastal’ district and I understand that.”
How the districts are drawn directly affects the outcome of many elections, and subsequently the balance of power between Democratic and Republican parties — as most of the candidates identify with one of the two major parties. This means the process of district redefining in Oregon spurs much interest among politically-minded people and the broader national scene. Different interest groups and organizations that stand to gain or lose during the process will watch for attempts of gerrymandering — a practice of remaking the district map to benefit one party or the other.
Oregon is one of 44states expected to redistrict by the end of 2022.