A recap of legislative redistricting efforts in Oregon
When the 2011 Legislature completed a legislative redistricting plan — and no one challenged it in the Oregon Supreme Court — it was the first time in a century that lawmakers completed that task successfully.
Modern redistricting goes back half a century, after U.S. Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s required states to draw congressional and legislative districts that are equal in population. For state legislative districts, the legal standard is "substantial equality," which is less strict than what courts require for congressional districts. (Under the current plan, Senate and House districts vary no more than 3 percentage points from the average.)
Oregon set out its legislative redistricting process in a constitutional amendment that voters approved in 1952 and updated in 1986. In short, lawmakers get first crack at it, but if they fail to make a deadline, the task falls to the secretary of state. Either plan can be challenged; the Supreme Court, which has deadlines of its own, is the final arbiter.
Congressional redistricting also falls to the Legislature first. As a result of a 2013 change, if lawmakers fail to agree, the Supreme Court names a special panel to draw the lines. But state law, not the Constitution, sets these rules.
Here's the timeline for previous state legislative redistrictings:
1971: A split Legislature (Republican House, 16-14 coalition Senate) failed to agree on a plan, so Republican Secretary of State Clay Myers drew up Oregon's first-ever plan that assigned legislators to specific districts. Under previous plans, some legislators were elected countywide or by groups of counties. The court upheld the plan.
1981: A Democratic Legislature agreed on a plan signed by Republican Gov. Vic Atiyeh, but there was one obvious flaw: One Senate district was left without an incumbent for two years. The court ordered Republican Secretary of State Norma Paulus to fix the flaw, and she did so by drawing an incumbent Democratic senator — who had shelved several of Paulus' election bills — out of his district. (Voters in 1986 changed the Oregon Constitution to allow incumbent legislators to be reassigned to other districts while they establish residency in a new district.)
1991: A split Legislature (Republican House, Democratic Senate) failed to agree on a plan, so Democratic Secretary of State Phil Keisling drew up a plan that was widely praised, but caught some flak from Democrats that he did not tilt in their favor. The court upheld the plan.
2001: A Republican Legislature passed a plan that was vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber. Republicans in the House attempted to pass the plan via resolution, which the governor cannot veto, but all but two Democrats walked out for a week to deny Republicans the 40 votes required for the House to do business. Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate, which was divided 16-14, signaled they were unwilling to go along. The June 30 deadline passed, and the task fell to Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury.
Republicans criticized Bradbury's plan as favoring Democrats, although Republicans retained majorities in the House after the 2002 and 2004 elections. The court upheld the plan, and rejected Republicans' argument that they could adopt a plan via veto-proof resolution.
2011: A divided Legislature (30-30 House, 16-14 Democratic Senate) passed a plan that was not challenged in court. Both parties came up with competing plans, but in the end, Republicans chose to support modifications of the 2001 plan rather than take their chances on a redistricting by then-Democratic Secretary of State Kate Brown.
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