The 2020 general election may give Oregonians the opportunity to change the way legislative and congressional districts are drawn every 10 years. Backers of the move are expected to submit three petitions to change the system to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office soon.
The idea makes sense. Currently, the redistricting task belongs to lawmakers. If they cannot agree on a plan, the job falls to the secretary of state, and that plan can be appealed to the state Supreme Court. If lawmakers do come up with a plan, it can be challenged, the secretary of state creates a plan, and it, too, can be challenged in the state’s highest court.
There’s ample room for partisan politics in the current system, and that’s what a commission system could be expected to change.
Supporters of the proposed plan include the League of Women Voters, Common Cause Oregon and OSPIRG, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, and others.
They would switch the state to a system much like the one currently used in California, with a commission equally divided among Democrats, Republicans, and others. Three administrative law judges would narrow the list to 150, from which six commissioners would be selected randomly. That six would appoint another six from the same pool. Most elected officials, their aides, political party officials, large political donors and lobbyists would be barred from serving on the commission.
Were Oregon to switch, it would join a growing number of states making the change, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. By 2020, at least 15 states will use commissions for state or federal redistricting, or both.
Giving Oregonians legislative and congressional districts that are designed to meet constitutional requirements of compactness, contain equal numbers of voters and respect “communities of common interest” is not the simplest task. Throw politics into the mix, and it can be nearly impossible. A nonpartisan commission could be expected to change that.