Oregonians who want the state to switch to an independent redistricting commission announced Wednesday that they are moving ahead with the effort, even as the coronavirus pandemic makes it more difficult to qualify initiatives for the November ballot.
The state Legislature currently handles the once-a-decade process to reshape Oregon’s electoral map, with the secretary of state stepping in if lawmakers don’t complete the job. There’s a real possibility that could happen soon, given Republicans used walkouts to shut down business at the Capitol four times in the last year.
Nationally, Democrats have pushed for citizen redistricting commissions in other states. But only one of the Democratic candidates for Oregon secretary of state — Sen. Mark Hass — says it’s a good idea for the largely blue state. Candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner disagrees with specifics of the current proposal and Sen. Shemia Fagan avoided saying whether she supports it. California voters passed a similar commission system in 2010.
Leading the effort to change move Oregon to a commission model are the League of Women Voters, good government group Common Cause, the Independent Party of Oregon and the Oregon Farm Bureau, which did much of the early work to prepare for signature gathering.
The People not Politicians campaign has until July 2 to gather 149,360 valid signatures necessary to qualify the initiative for the ballot. With social distancing still necessary to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the campaign hopes to gather the signatures one at a time by having people download, print, read, sign and mail in the initiative petition available at www.PeopleNotPoliticiansOregon.com.
“These are uncertain times, but democracy doesn’t stop,” said Norman Turrill, chair of the campaign and president of the League of Women Voters of Oregon Advocacy Fund. “We believe, and a large majority of Oregonians agree, that every Oregonian deserves to be represented and every eligible voter’s vote should count.”
Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon, said in a statement that “Letting politicians manipulate voting maps is like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Politicians in power shouldn’t be allowed to draw voting maps which benefit themselves, but that’s exactly what they do now. It’s a conflict of interest.”
Under the proposal, the Oregon Citizens Redistricting Commission would have 12 members with four each from the largest and second largest political parties in the state, Democrats and Republicans respectively. The four remaining members would be from smaller parties or non-affiliated voters, and major political donors, party officials and elected officials would be barred from serving on the commission.
Other groups supporting the initiative include NAACP branches of Oregon, the conservative Taxpayer Association of Oregon, OSPIRG, the American Association of University Women of Oregon and Oregon’s Progressive Party. The campaign has reported raising roughly $131,000 which would unlikely be enough to qualify using paid signature gatherers, even if social distancing orders and mores hadn’t made that practically impossible.
Democrats currently control both chambers of the Legislature and hold four out of five statewide elected offices in Oregon. The party has not taken a position on the proposal and spokeswoman Molly Woon said the group typically waits to see which initiatives qualify for the ballot before deciding whether to support any of them. A representative of the Oregon Republican Party could not immediately be reached for comment.