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Oregon’s Secretary of State Proceeds with Just-in-Case Redistricting Plan

August 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon’s legislature has until September 27 to craft new legislative and congressional districts based on 2020 census data, but Secretary of State Shemia Fagan isn’t waiting for the deadline to pass to prepare for an entirely different redistricting scenario.

This week she invited all Oregonians who are at least 16 and have been residents of the state since April to apply for a spot on what she’s calling the “People’s Commission on Redistricting.”

If formed — a big if at this point — the citizen commissioners would advise Fagan and her staff as they conduct public hearings on the redistricting effort and ultimately produce a map.

Establishing the commission would be the fulfillment of a promise Fagan made on the campaign trail last year, and there’s credible reason to expect it might be needed: Over the past 110 years, the Oregon legislature has succeeded in drafting maps that passed legal muster only twice.

If they fail to do so again this year, the task of creating the maps will fall to Fagan.

“Today, redistricting is the Legislature’s job,” Fagan said in a written statement. “While I am optimistic they will pass a redistricting bill by the September 27 deadline, I owe it to Oregonians to be ready to go if they don’t.” 

“I made a commitment to Oregonians to convene a People’s Commission to advise me on redistricting and that is exactly what I am preparing to do,” she added.

Depending on how many applicants it receives, the Secretary of State’s Office plans to select up to 20 commission members, with a focus on people with diverse experience and backgrounds, and a goal to include people from all five of Oregon’s congressional districts.

Commissioners will be paid for their time — $100 per half day, and $150 per full day — and be expected to attend a training, five public hearings, and a final “debrief” meeting to offer input.

Among those prohibited from applying are current or recent lawmakers, current or recent lobbyists, candidates for office, and legislative or party staff.

Fagan’s commission differs significantly from independent commissions in other states in that it doesn’t explicitly require a certain number of representatives from any political party. However, she’s said she’ll make sure no single party is “over represented.”

The most important thing, Fagan said, is that if drafting the maps falls to her, she’ll be able to draw on the perspective of a wide range of people about what fair and legal districts should look like.

In a typical redistricting year, the process of drawing new political maps in Oregon would already be well underway, if not finished. The state Constitution gives lawmakers until July 1 to pass new boundaries, and the secretary of state until Aug. 15 if the Legislature fails.

But as with so much else in contemporary life, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the regular timetable out the window. 

Because of delays caused by the pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau did not deliver the detailed population data needed to draw the new maps until Aug. 16.

In light of the delay the Oregon Supreme Court in April granted lawmakers an extension, giving them until Sept. 27 to pass its own set of legislative and congressional maps. 

If they fail to find agreement, Fagan will have until Oct. 18 to build her own plan for the maps.

If redistricting falls to her, Fagan said she expects orientation for the People’s Commissioners to be held on September 29. 

Public hearings would then be held on the following days:

October 6 – evening hearing in Oregon Congressional District 4

October 7 – evening hearing in Oregon Congressional District 2

October 8 – evening hearing in Oregon Congressional District 5

October 9 – hearing in Oregon Congressional Districts 1 and 3

October 12 – Commission debrief meeting

Oregonians wishing to serve on Oregon’s People’s Commission must complete the application at the Oregon Secretary of State’s website by September 2. 

“Redistricting matters because representation that reflects you, your family, and your community is the foundation of our democracy,” Fagan said. 

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