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Oregon officials seek answers about redistricting deadline

March 11, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — As Oregon’s redistricting deadline draws closer, and census data is delayed, the state’s legislative leaders and the secretary of state are discussing how to move forward.

Oregon’s Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portlandfiled a petition Wednesday with the state Supreme Court, asking for a redistricting extension until the end of the year as they wait to receive 2020 census data.

However, during a news conference Wednesday Secretary of State Shemia Fagan said while she agrees about seeking clarity from the court, her office will offer another option — to move forward with the current July 1 deadline and use alternative data sets from Portland State University’s Population Research Center.

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“We are arguing for the same outcome in the sense that we both agree it is the Legislature’s job,” Fagan said. “It is not the Legislature or the (secretary of Stase). It’s the Legislature. When, is our position.”

Redistricting, the process where lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional districts, occurs every 10 years following the census. Districts must be equal in population to each other.

Although there’s a set number of state legislative districts, due to Oregon’s population growth in the last decade it is likely that the state will receive an additional seat in the United States House of Representatives. This means that the number of congressional districts would increase from five to six.

However, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that data may not be delivered until Sept. 30. Under the Oregon Constitution and state laws, the deadline to redraw districts is July 1.

In Courtney and Kotek’s petition, they ask for the deadline to be extended to as late as Dec. 30.

“With the redistricting data delayed until well beyond the constitutionally mandated reapportionment deadlines, the Legislative Assembly and Secretary of State have two choices: fail to carry out their constitutional duty to reapportion or move forward with outdated data, which in turn creates a risk that a reapportionment violates the Equal Protection Clause and Voting Rights Act,” the legislative petition stated.

However, Fagan said if this request was granted she is worried the extension could disrupt the election cycle.

“My concern about the deadlines proposed by the legislature is that the redistricting process could reach in to 2022 and would then cause disruption in the 2022 primary elections,” Fagan said.

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In an attempt to avoid this outcome, Fagan said she has met with Portland State University’s Population Research Center about using alternative data sets to use to map the districts.

“We have every confidence that with that data, the Legislature can do their job and fulfill their constitutional responsibility to Oregonians and do it on the existing timelines under the Oregon constitution,” Fagan said.

Officials say that after census data is released, Oregonians would have to the opportunity to petition the court in the event that there are any changes that need to be made.

“Essentially we are giving the court two different options,” Fagan said.

Under the Oregon Constitution, if lawmakers do not receive an extension and do not meet their deadline then it would be Fagan’s job to draw legislative districts by Aug. 15. However Fagan said that she has “every confidence that (lawmakers) will get it done in a bipartisan fashion, just as they did ten years ago.”

Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.