SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court has floated a plan that would give state lawmakers an extension on a deadline to redraw electoral boundaries because of pandemic-related delays in U.S. Census data.
House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney earlier this month asked the state’s high court to extend the Legislature’s redistricting deadline, but Secretary of State Shemia Fagan has said the new electoral map can be redrawn without the delay and remain fair and equitable. The current deadline, set by the Oregon Constitution, is July 1.
The high court’s proposal, which was laid out in court filings last week, was first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Under the tentative plan, lawmakers would have until October 15 to redraw legislative districts, giving them some time to analyze Census data and complete new boundaries for Oregon’s 60 House districts and 30 Senate districts. The data is expected to be released by the federal government on Sept. 30, so lawmakers would still only have a few weeks to complete the task.
Oregon’s leaders have been struggling to figure out how to do the weighty political job of redistricting in a year when data delays are upending hard constitutional dates. The once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative and congressional districts helps dictate who holds political control of the state for the next 10 years.
Complicating the process is disagreement among Democratic elected officials over whether it’s even necessary to wait for the updated Census data to do the job properly. The Legislature named Fagan as a defendant in a lawsuit earlier this month and asked the Supreme Court for three extra months to complete redistricting.
But Fagan, who will inherit the job of redrawing the maps if lawmakers fail to pass a redistricting plan, is worried that pushing back redistricting would require huge changes in the timeline of the 2022 primary election. In an answer to the Legislature’s lawsuit, the secretary said that lawmakers didn’t need to wait until census data arrived to redraw districts.
She argues that the Population Research Center at Portland State University has accurate enough population data to allow the Legislature to draw districts that have equal enough populations to pass legal muster. Under Fagan’s proposed plan, lawmakers would use that data to complete maps by July 1.
If they later needed to be rejiggered, she said, there would be time to do so.
To pave the way for that plan, the Secretary of State’s Office has inked a deal with Portland State University, agreeing to pay up to $68,105 for data to be delivered by June 15, two weeks ahead of the normal constitutional deadline.
“We have a lot more data out there than people are aware of,” said Ethan Sharygin, director of the Population Research Center. “Nothing we can do can supplant or replace the census. We’re huge boosters of the census. That said, we do have some other great data sources.”
The Supreme Court’s proposed schedule is something of a middle ground between the two proposals.
Under the court’s proposed schedule, Fagan would have a week — as opposed to six weeks under the state constitution — to draw maps if the Legislature fails to do so. She says such a short time frame might require her to “conduct public hearings and create her own redistricting map at virtually the same time as the Legislative Assembly is conducting public hearings and deliberating its own redistricting plan.”
“This is likely to create public confusion,” the filing said.
The Oregon Supreme Court has not yet formally concluded that it even has authority to alter constitutional deadlines, let alone what those altered deadlines will be. According to a spokesman for the court, there is no specific time frame for justices to reach a decision.