Redistricting measure falls short

PORTLAND — A petition drive to take control of legislative redistricting away from Oregon lawmakers came up short, Secretary of State Kate Brown said Monday.

The constitutional amendment would have set up a panel of retired state judges to redraw legislative districts. Figures from Brown's office Monday showed the initiative campaign fell about 17 percent short of the 110,000 valid signatures needed to put it to a vote in November.

Its conservative backers, Kevin Mannix and Ross Day, argued in court Monday that Brown's office was wrong to throw out thousands of signatures just because the petition carriers made mistakes in certifying the sheets bearing the names.

But, as Day acknowledged, even if they win their legal challenge, the petition drive would still be short — unless the contested signatures are found to be valid at a markedly higher rate than those Brown's office has already considered.

Day said that was a possibility, as is coming back with a redistricting measure in 2012.

"This is something that is very popular," he said.

The proposed amendment would not have applied to congressional redistricting because Oregon's constitution can be amended only one part at a time. Mannix said the plan has been to follow the legislative change with an amendment that applies to the state's congressional districts.

In most states, the Legislature redraws the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts. It's done once a decade, following the Census, which was conducted this year.

The process is often, as in Oregon, contentious. It involves both the personal ambitions of lawmakers and the balance of partisan power for years. It's been contested more keenly each decade as computers have become more powerful and mapping software more sophisticated.

Oregon's lawmakers haven't had great success redrawing their own boundaries, according to a legislative history: Since 1951, no legislative redistricting plan has survived deadlock between the chambers, veto by the governor or adverse decision in the courts.

In 2001, Democrat John Kitzhaber was in the governor's office and vetoed a Republican redistricting plan, so, according to the rules, the task fell to the secretary of state. Republicans have complained ever since that Democrat Bill Bradbury drew the lines to his party's advantage.

According to senior fellow Tim Storey, a staff member at the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 other states have taken redistricting out of the hands of the legislators, although none has assigned it to a panel of retired judges as Mannix and Day propose. The practices vary, as does the degree of partisan involvement in the process, Storey said.

In six states, bodies other than the legislature handle congressional redistricting, he said.

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