Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, have teamed up to create a plan that would change the way the state redraws its electoral boundaries every 10 years. Senate Joint Resolution 11 would create an independent redistricting commission. It isn’t perfect, but with tinkering it could be a dramatic improvement to what happens now.
Currently, the state constitution leaves the nuts and bolts of redistricting to the Legislature. That body draws new district maps for both the state Legislature and Oregon congressional districts. There’s a natural impulse, no doubt, for a Democratically controlled Legislature to want maps that favor that party and for a Republican-majority Legislature to want the reverse.
If those maps are challenged, and they have been more often than not in recent years, the state Supreme Court steps in. If it finds problems, the secretary of state, with guidance from the court, redraws the faulty districts, which, after approval from the court, become law until the process begins again after the next national census.
SJR 11 would change all that. It lays out a complex process for creating an independent redistricting commission, laying out strict rules aimed at keeping political party influence out of the process. Many of the rules make sense, though one that requires each member not to have changed political parties in five years is problematic. Some people change parties before primary elections in order to maximize their impact. This is a legitimate exercise of the franchise that should not be punished.
Unfortunately, SJR 11 is likely to get little traction in the current Legislature. Democrats are in the redistricting catbird seat for the moment, and that won’t change before the next redistricting begins after the 2020 census. They’re likely to refuse to have anything to do with reducing their current power when it comes to redistricting.
That said, the idea shouldn’t be allowed to die. It would bring a fairness to the redistricting process that too often has appeared to be lacking, and that’s a good thing.