Redistricting reformers aim for Oregon

Organizers will begin collecting tens of thousands of signatures for two 2024 ballot initiatives.
The Oregon state Capitol in Salem. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File)

Supporters of two measures aimed at reforming the way Oregon redraws its political boundaries will begin collecting signatures to qualify for the ballot in 2024 after winning preliminary approval from the state Attorney General.

The coalition of backers, operating under an umbrella called People Not Politicians, said it would begin collecting the nearly 150,000 signatures they need to get the two initiatives on the ballot after Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s (D) office approved ballot titles, a legal hurdle any initiative campaign must clear.

“The [redistricting] process is really a conflict of interest for everybody in the legislature because they’re drawing their own districts. That in turn is detrimental to the voters,” said Norman Turrill, who heads People Not Politicians. “The tendency is to draw safe districts for incumbents, and that means the voters have very little chance of changing their representation.”

The group will decide between two separate initiatives that both won approval. Initiative Petition 13 would create an independent redistricting commission to draw both congressional and state legislative district lines. Initiative Petition 14 would limit the commission’s authority to state legislative districts only.

In a press release, People Not Politicians said it would pick one measure to circulate. Turrill said their decision would be based on oral arguments this week before the U.S. Supreme Court in Moore v. Harper, a case that weighs the power of a state legislature to draw district lines.

“From those oral arguments, we think we will get some indication of how the Supreme Court will vote and that will lead to our decision,” Turrill said. “We think that we’re on pretty safe grounds anyway. It’s mostly a political decision rather than a legal decision.”

Oregon currently allows the state legislature to redraw political boundary lines. After the most recent process, majority Democrats strong-armed proposed congressional and legislative district maps through the legislature.

Reform groups called the congressional map — meant to elect five Democrats and only one Republican — an extreme gerrymander. The map split the liberal bastion of Portland between three different districts that snaked west, south and east in an effort to secure more Democratic seats.

Republicans sued over the map, though the state Supreme Court ruled in Democrats’ favor.

But Republicans got the last laugh in November, when former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R) beat attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner (D) in a district that stretches from the southern Portland suburbs to Salem. It marked the first time since 1994 that Oregon sent two Republicans to Congress.

This is the second effort to reform Oregon’s redistricting process by establishing an independent commission. A previous measure failed to gather enough signatures to make the 2020 ballot after being hindered by pandemic-era lockdowns that stymied ballot measures across the nation.

Oregon would join 14 other states that use commissions to draw political boundaries in some form or other, including three of its four neighbors — Washington, California and Idaho.

The measures would create a redistricting commission made up of four registered Republicans and four registered Democrats, plus four more who are unaffiliated or are members of another party. At least one Democrat and one Republican would have to agree on final map lines.

Turrill said his group decided to model their commission on California’s version, which also includes bipartisan and unaffiliated voters.

“These proposals are very popular with the voters, so if we can get the signatures we think it will pass resoundingly,” he said.

This post has been updated with Turrill’s comments.