Oregon’s flawed process split Native American communities; prioritized partisan & incumbent interests
PORTLAND — Today, Common Cause, the leading anti-gerrymandering group, published a report grading the redistricting process in all 50 states from the view of the community. The comprehensive report evaluates public access, outreach, and education in each state based on an analysis of more than 120 detailed surveys and more than 60 interviews.
Oregon earned a C– grade. The report found Oregon’s legislative-controlled redistricting process involved insufficient outreach, technical barriers to public participation, and inadequate incorporation of public feedback. The report notes that some Native American voting rights activists and tribal leaders were dissatisfied with the lack of genuine outreach by the state, and by the resulting maps which split Native communities on and around several reservations.
It’s noteworthy that Oregon was graded poorly on public participation as this was the first redistricting cycle where legislators were required to conduct multiple public hearings, thanks to a 2015 law (HB 2974), spearheaded by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. Legislators did conduct multiple hearings at which they appeared to welcome public participation, but it’s not clear whether these hearings served mostly as window dressing. Advocates and political insiders felt the redistricting process played out similarly to past cycles, with decision-makers incentivized to prioritize partisan and incumbent concerns over community concerns and to make decisions out of public view.
“After a close look at all 50 states, this report shows more community voices produce better maps,” said Dan Vicuña, Common Cause national redistricting director. “When everyone can meaningfully participate and have their input reflected in the final maps, that’s how we achieve fair elections voters can trust. We found voting districts that prioritize community interests are the gateway to elections that lead to strong schools, a fair economy, and affordable healthcare.”
Common Cause graded each state for its state-level redistricting. Some states received a second grade for their local redistricting process in cases where advocates provided data. Each interview and survey asked participants about the accessibility of the process, the role of community groups, the organizing landscape, and the use of communities of interest criteria.
“No community should be underrepresented,” said Kate Titus, Common Cause Oregon executive director. “But as long as lawmakers are the ones drawing the lines of their own districts, their own interests drive the redistricting process, and community interests get traded against each other. Redistricting determines the kind of leaders we can elect, and how well they represent us. All communities need meaningful influence over our own voting districts.”
Common Cause found the most powerful reform is independent, citizen-led commissions where voters—rather than elected officials—administer the process and hold the power of the pen to draw maps. Independent commissioners were found to be more interested in fair representation and community input— rather than electability or party control.
The report was authored by Common Cause, Fair Count, State Voices, and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
The report was published in collaboration with the Coalition Hub for Advancing Redistricting and Grassroots Engagement (CHARGE), which includes Common Cause, Fair Count, League of Women Voters, Mia Familia Vota, NAACP, NCAI, State Voices, APIAVote, and the Center for Popular Democracy.