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Redistricting matters, and you should care about it

Now that Oregon’s legislature is nearly split down the middle – 30–30 for Congress and 16-14 for Senate – they’re set to tackle one of the most influential and ignored issues in local politics and representative democracy: redistricting.

See? Even the name sounds exciting. Drawing lines in the sand might not be a hot-button issue like taxes, weed and mandatory minimum sentencing, but it matters. A lot. The average citizen might not care, but it’s so important to politicians that in some states local laws keep it entirely out of their hands, instead being delegated to outside groups who don’t have as much to gain from the outcome. Oregon’s tried to enact similar rules, but it’s fizzled out every time. Either way, it will have a dramatic effect on the political process for the next ten years.

For example, redrawing electoral district lines means an area’s Representative could change, and some incumbents will be trying to appeal to new faces in their bid for re-election. The choices that are made in redrawing the borders will shape who has an easy political battle and which party gains control of the statehouse. When it’s done for a deliberate political advantage, it’s called Gerrymandering, and it’s very illegal.

We only need to look back a couple weeks to the gubernatorial race between Governor John Kitzhaber and opponent Chris Dudley to see the importance of county lines. Dudley lost by a single percentage point, with most of it coming from the liberal Multnomah County. (Graphics courtesy of BlueOregon — LOL!)

Ever looked at a sea of red and wondered how it could be a 50/50 split?

Adjusted for population. Now imagine the effect that moving one of those borders in a densely populated area like Multnomah County. This is why it's the stuff of political wet dreams.

Redistricting typically happens after each census, with the new figures being used to redraw district lines to meet a set of criteria in Oregon law. All districts must:

– Be contiguous. (A district can’t be split in to two separate regions that aren’t connected, e.g. Palestine.)
– Be equal in population.
– Respect existing geographic or political boundaries (Sorry, Portland. Vancouver, WA can’t be counted in your district, even if it might as well be a suburb.)
– Must not divide communities of common interest.
– Be connected by transportation links.

The Oregon Congress hasn’t able to agree to district boundaries since 1981. In this case, the duty defaults to the Secretary of State. In 2001 during his first bout as governor, Kitzhaber vetoed the GOP-created boundaries, which meant it was Bill Bradbury’s job to do it. That’s the same Bill Bradbury who ran against Kitzhaber as a Democratic candidate, so some political commentators have said that the borders he drew are responsible for Democratic gains since then.

Congress is expecting the new census data sometime in March, and has until July 1 to turn in their revisions. If they don’t, the duty will fall on the current Secretary of State, Democrat Kate Brown.

Current Oregon legislative districts. Does this turn you on? If so, you might be a politician.

  1. […] EDIT: Here’s an article that’s a couple years old, but seeks to explain redistricting and why you should pay attention to it. In full disclosure, I wrote it while I was on staff at the Oregon Commentator. So, you know, shameless self promotion and all: […]

  2. Travis P says:

    Okay that map got me super turned on. I think I have a problem, that problem is politics. is there a doctor I can see?

  3. Hey – thanks for using our maps. Glad you found them helpful.

    One correction: It’s the Oregon Legislature, not Oregon Congress.

    And one more thing: I just came across awesome Google maps of each Oregon legislative district. Very nice. Very helpful.

  4. Miles Rost says:

    That map is wrong.

    Most updated map, courtesy of the Secretary of State’s office

  5. ellen says:

    Cheeky! But super informative. I’m a little confused about redistricting to win a governor’s seat because it’s a popular (one person/one vote) race. Explain?

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