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Potential OR Initiative Could Cut Down on Gerrymandering

Under the current system, Oregon politicians can often shape voting districts to increase their power. (iQoncept/Adobe Stock)
Under the current system, Oregon politicians can often shape voting districts to increase their power. (iQoncept/Adobe Stock)
June 26, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon stands out on the West Coast for the way its voting districts are drawn. Unlike neighbors California, Idaho and Washington, redistricting in Oregon is a political process decided by the party in power.

The threat of gerrymandering is high. Executive Director of Common Cause Oregon Kate Titus says politicians typically draw districts behind closed doors using elaborate data.

"If you move that line over one block and include this block in this district instead of that district," asks Titus, "how's it going to affect their political power? So, that sophisticated analysis is happening - it's just not open to the public, and that's really the problem."

Titus says a coalition of groups is looking to change that.

Signatures are being collected for an initiative to create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. Its backers have until July 2 to collect about 150,000 signatures.

Critics of the idea say creating the commission would leave out some marginalized groups. Titus counters that an independent redistricting commission would invite the public to participate in the process.

"It's all out in the open and it centers around community input," says Titus. "So, a lot of public testimony, so that the commission itself is really responding to the needs of communities as the communities themselves see them."

The novel coronavirus has thrown a wrench into the signature-collecting process.

Titus says the campaign had to get creative. The coalition, known as "People Not Politicians," mailed petitions to a half-million households in the state.

She says folks can sign it from home, too.

"If they had a computer at home, they could print out a petition on their computers, sign it and mail it in," says Titus.

She says getting an independent commission passed this year is especially important. Districts are drawn once a decade - and that happens next year, using 2020 Census data.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR