Others Say: Richardson's redistricting idea deserves a look

There’s almost nothing more partisan than deciding the boundaries of Oregon’s political districts. The boundaries of 30 state Senate seats, 60 state House seats and Oregon’s congressional districts are at stake. And how does Oregon do it?

In a highly partisan way. Oregon’s process essentially leaves it up to state legislators.

The Oregon Constitution directs that elected legislators draw the lines. If legislators fail, the secretary of state takes over. The Oregon Supreme Court performs the legal review.

Is there a better way? Oregon politicians are talking about it. The lines are set to be redrawn in 2021.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Republican, proposed last week to use a redistricting commission to set the boundaries based on a computer algorithm. Voters would have to amend the constitution to make that happen.

One major issue is picking members of the commission. Richardson proposed a randomized process that guaranteed representation for the state’s two largest political parties.

A second big question is what factors the algorithm and the commission use to draw the lines. Some attention is usually paid to making a district geographically compact. But almost always the key factor is drawing boundaries based on what are called “communities of interest.” The definition of that, though, is a headache. A community of interest could be a city like Bend. It could be previously set districts. It could be economic, ethnic, geographic, cultural, rural/urban or you name it.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a commission or a group of legislators deciding what the communities of interest should be — there’s plenty of potential for mischief. Almost everyone will be able to see something gerrymandered.

Oregon’s Democratic Party has come out against Richardson’s proposal. Jeanne Atkins, the former secretary of state who is now chair of the Democratic Party, suggests an evaluation be done of the history of Oregon’s process to better understand what works or doesn’t.

It is worth having the discussion about the right system. At least according to some political scientists who have looked at the issue, states with independent commissions produce results that are more fair — less partisan and more competitive — than other systems. Richardson’s concepts deserve a closer look.

The Bulletin



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