National report: Oregon gets C- grade for redistricting, cites lack of tribal input

Oregon fell in the middle of the pack, while California and Massachusetts received top marks

By: - October 11, 2023 5:38 pm
Oregon House

A sign outside of the House chambers at the Oregon State Capitol. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

New Oregon legislative and congressional maps didn’t adequately incorporate feedback from Oregon tribes, a report from a national coalition of advocacy groups found. 

Overall, Oregon earned a C-minus on the Community Redistricting Report Card issued Wednesday by the Coalition Hub for Advancing Redistricting & Grassroots Engagement. Delaware, Rhode Island, Utah and Wyoming received the same grade, while California and Massachusetts received top marks and Alabama, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin earned Fs. 

The analysis looked at how all 50 states redrew congressional and legislative district lines after the 2020 census. In Oregon, like most states, the Legislature controls redistricting. Other states, including California and Washington, have independent redistricting commissions that handle drawing maps. 

Analysts looked at news reports and court cases and interviewed advocates in each state. They graded based on transparency, opportunities for public input and how willing mapmakers were to incorporate public input, as well as looking at the involvement of communities of color and whether maps resulted in partisan gerrymandering. 

“For too long public dialogue about redistricting has focused almost exclusively on the partisan horse race,” said Dan Vicuña, national redistricting director for Common Cause, one of the organizations in the coalition. “It’s undeniable that manipulation of voting districts for political advantage is a direct threat to the health of our democracy. However, that threat doesn’t derive from which party is up or down at a given moment. It derives from the slicing and dicing of communities into districts in ways that make it impossible for their residents to have an effective voice in Congress, state legislatures and local government.”

Oregon’s new congressional districts, which were used for the first time in the 2022 election, previously received a failing grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. On paper, five of the state’s six congressional districts favor Democrats, meaning Democrats could represent 83.3% of Oregon voters even though Democratic President Joe Biden captured 56.45% of the state’s vote in 2020.

Republican Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer’s victory in the 5th Congressional District and Republican victories in the state House and Senate belied some claims of partisan gerrymandering last year.

The section about Oregon focused primarily on the state’s use of feedback, especially feedback from Native Americans. 

“A community organizer and member of the Confederated Tribe of Warm Springs believed that legislators tokenized tribal input rather than truly listening to it,” the report said. “For example, many pieces of public testimony stressed that, while the proposed (and final) maps technically kept tribal lands together, they split the Warm Springs Reservation from the city of Madras. While Madras is not within the confines of the reservation, it is a city in which many tribal community members live, shop and go to school. Further, in the previous official map, the two were kept together.”

A member of the Confederated Tribe of Warm Springs estimated that only about 5% of the community knew about redistricting, and few understood the connection between the census and redistricting. Advocates plan to start outreach about redistricting and the census earlier ahead of the 2030 census and 2031 redistricting. 

Tribal advocates said the Legislature didn’t treat the state’s nine recognized tribes as sovereign governments but as community organizations. The only official meeting legislators working on redistricting had with tribal leaders was held at the last minute and not all tribes could attend, the report found. 

Saundra Mitrovich, civic engagement associate with the National Congress of American Indians, said tribes in Alaska, California, New Mexico and Washington, all of which use independent commissions, had more say in redistricting than they had in previous years. In Alaska, for instance, having two Alaska Natives on a five-member redistricting board contributed to a Senate map that preserved an Anchorage neighborhood with a significant Alaska Native population in a single Senate district instead of splitting the neighborhood among other districts and diluting the community’s voting power.

In Oregon, advocates began circulating petitions earlier this year for a constitutional amendment that would create a new independent redistricting commission and require the state to redraw its district maps in 2025. They have until July 2024 to collect more than 156,000 signatures from Oregon voters to make the ballot. 


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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.