On Monday, April 26, the U.S. Census Bureau released figures indicating that the state of Oregon’s population has expanded over the last decade enough to give it an additional congressional district for the first time in 40 years, increasing Oregon’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from five to six. Ron Jarmin, acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau, led the news conference. He earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Oregon.
In Oregon, lawmakers redraw the state House, state Senate and federal congressional districts. State legislators have the biggest say over redistricting in many states, but other states use different methods for drawing lines, including independent commissions. This year’s redistricting effort will be hampered by a major delay in the availability of data.
The number of state legislative districts is set by the Oregon constitution. Lawmakers can only move the boundary lines and they must be equal in population. Congressional districts are added and subtracted to states based on population. These districts must also be equal in population. Oregon was close to adding a new district in 2011 but fell short compared to other states, making its five districts among the most populous in the nation.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced that the state of Texas will gain two seats, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will gain one seat, and the following states will lose one seat; California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s original plan was to deliver redistricting data to states by March 31, 2021, but like most things during the pandemic and also due to the Trump administration’s efforts to disrupt and shorten the census process, it was delayed. The bureau predicts that data will not be distributed to Oregon until August.
Under the Oregon Constitution and state laws, the deadline to redraw districts is July 1, well before census data is released. This deadline prompted Oregon’s Senate and House leaders to file a petition with the state Supreme Court to ask for an extension, which was approved this month. The Oregon Legislature now has until Sept. 27 to complete the redistricting process.
Patricia Southwell, UO political science professor, is quoted in multiple news articles regarding the political picture in Oregon regarding redistricting.
“The real quandary for Democrats is that Oregon is much more of a competitive state than you would think,” said Southwell. “In the 2020 election 42% of Oregonian voters cast their ballot for a republican us house candidate, but they still only have one representative.”
Southwell continued, “I think (Democrats are going to come under a lot of pressure, probably from Republicans more than anyone else, to recognize that there are a lot of Republicans in the state of Oregon and have been underrepresented in the U.S. House.”
Democrats agreed to give up their advantage in redrawing the state’s political boundaries in exchange for a commitment from Republicans to stop blocking bills in the Legislature with delay tactics. With the agreement, Democrats and Republicans each have three members on the state’s redistricting committee.
Should lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on U.S. congressional boundaries, the matter would be settled by a panel of five judges, one from reach of the state’s current congressional districts. If the lawmakers are unable to complete the state legislative maps by their deadline, the task would fall to Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.
Follow this process on the Oregon Redistricting website.