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Redistricting reform

A proposed initiative that would change the way Oregon draws its legislative and congressional district boundaries promises to get a lot of attention next year.

A new U.S. Census will be conducted in 2020, and Oregon could gain enough population to add a sixth U.S. House member when redistricting takes place in 2021. Who gets to draw the lines for six instead of five congressional districts becomes extremely important.

Beyond that, there will be a wide-open race for Secretary of State. Bev Clarno, the Republican appointed to finish Dennis Richardson’s term after his death last February, will not seek the office. Under the existing system for redistricting in Oregon, the task of drawing new legislative districts falls to the Secretary of State if the Legislature cannot agree on a plan.

Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, so that party likely would call the shots on redistricting.

A broad coalition of political and governmental watchdog groups is proposing a constitutional amendment that would create a 12-member redistricting commission, evenly divided among registered Democrats, Republicans and members of neither party. The coalition includes the Oregon League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, the Independent and Progressive parties, the Farm Bureau and the Taxpayer Association of Oregon.

Democrats in the Legislature are unlikely to get behind this effort, because the existing situation favors them — for now. They should consider, however, the possibility that the tables could turn before the next Census a decade from now.

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