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Lawmakers given more time to redraw Oregon political lines

April 9, 2021 GMT

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the Legislature will have until Sept. 27 to complete the redistricting process, giving lawmakers more time to draw political boundaries following a delay in crucial census data.

The unanimous decision by the justices will give legislative leaders nearly three extra months to do their work.

“The Supreme Court has done its job. Now it’s time for the Legislature to do its constitutional duty: to redraw the district boundaries for the State of Oregon in a way that’s fair and accurate. We have full faith in the legislative redistricting committees to lead this work,” Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek said in a joint statement Friday.

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.

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Earlier this year 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. This prompted Oregon’s Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland to file a petition with the state Supreme Court, asking for a redistricting extension until the end of the year.

In their ruling, the state Supreme Court justices said “the federal government’s delayed release of the 2020 census data makes it impossible for the Legislative Assembly and the Secretary to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities without an adjustment of those deadlines.”

“The principle of ‘one person, one vote’ is fundamental to our democracy and the entire undertaking of redistricting,” said Sen. Kathleen Taylor, a Portland Democrat and chair of the Senate Committee on Redistricting. “Now that the Supreme Court has granted an extension to the deadline, the Legislature can protect that principle by using the accurate and detailed population counts and demographic information from the 2020 Census data as the foundation for our redistricting.”

Lawmakers described the now granted request as bipartisan.

“We have had a good working relationship among the Senate members of the committee,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, a Bend Republican and vice-chair of the Redistricting Committee. “Election integrity and fair districts live to fight another day because of this decision. It ensures that we can continue to work together to ensure that Oregonians can pick their representatives fairly.”

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan opposed that idea, citing concerns about an extension disrupting the election cycle. Instead, Fagan proposed moving forward with the current July 1 deadline and use alternative data sets from Portland State University’s Population Research Center.

In the event that the Legislature does not enact new legislative districts by September 27, the Secretary of State must enact new legislative districts by October 18, 2021

“Our agency’s core objectives were to prevent moving the 2022 election dates and to preserve robust public input by starting the process with available population data,” said Fagain following the court’s ruling. “We appreciate that the Oregon Supreme Court thoughtfully adopted both of our objectives. Representation matters and that is what redistricting is all about.”

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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.