Why We Did This - Home Rule Charter Mandates

The Multnomah County Home Rule Charter Section 3.15 directs the Auditor to use decennial (recurring every 10 years) census data to determine if the population of any commissioner district is more than 103% of the population of any other commissioner district. If one is, the Charter directs the Auditor, in consultation with the Multnomah County Elections Division, to prepare and present a plan for modifying the commissioner district boundaries to the Board of County Commissioners by August 1 of that year. The Charter allows the Board 45 days to pass an ordinance to change the boundaries of the commissioner districts.

The U.S. Census Bureau did not make redistricting data from the 2020 census available until August 12, 2021 making compliance with the Charter’s requirement to meet the August 1 deadline impossible. The Auditor notified the Board of County Commissioners that development of a redistricting plan would be delayed due to the late release of the census data, but would be completed no later than the end of February 2022.

Population growth in districts 1 and 2 trigger need for redistricting

Population changes triggered a need for redistricting based on our calculations of the relative sizes of each commissioner district. The table below displays populations of the existing districts – both districts 1 and 2 are more than 103% of the smallest district by population.

Current District Populations Compared to 103% Charter Requirement

Proposed Redistricting Plan

The maps below display the existing and proposed commissioner districts. We recommend that the Board of County Commissioners adopt the proposed boundaries described in Appendix 1 via ordinance.

Current Commissioner Districts

Source: Multnomah County GIS

Proposed Commissioner Districts

Source: Multnomah County GIS

We developed these boundaries according to the County Charter and other legal criteria

The Multnomah County Home Rule Charter specifies that the Auditor shall be guided by the following points in drawing up a plan to adjust the commissioner districts:

  • No district will be more than 102% of the population of any other commissioner district; and
  • The general geographic characteristics of districts established by the Charter shall be retained as nearly as possible.

The U.S. Voting Rights Act prohibits the intentional dilution of the voting strength of any race or language minority group. It requires that the redrawing of district lines not lessen these voters opportunity to participate in the political process.

The Oregon Secretary of State issued a directive that local redistricting efforts include the following criteria where practicable:

  • Districts should be contiguous;
  • Districts should be of equal population;
  • Districts should utilize existing geographic or political boundaries whenever possible;
  • Districts should not divide communities of common interest;
  • Districts should be connected by transportation links;
  • Districts should not be drawn for the purpose of favoring any political party, incumbent legislator, or any other person; and
  • Districts should not be drawn for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of any language or ethnic minority group.

The proposed districts meet County, State, and Federal criteria

Our proposed districts meet the various requirements set forth in the Charter, the Oregon Secretary of State’s directive, and the U.S. Voting Rights Act. The proposed boundaries bring the difference in the population of each district well below the 2% threshold.

The largest of the proposed districts is less than 1% larger than the smallest proposed district

Population growth in Districts 1 and 2 meant that we needed to increase the size of Districts 3 and 4, while still maintaining the geographic characteristics of the existing districts. This generally shifted district borders west. Most of the previous boundaries are intact.

In alignment with generally accepted government auditing standards, the Auditor’s Office seeks to ensure that government operates equitably, and we focused on redistricting criteria related to racial equity within Multnomah County. The primary criteria we are required to follow related to equity came from the U.S. Voting Rights Act and the Oregon Secretary of State’s directives described earlier. 

We used census data on race and ethnicity to compare the demographic makeup of the current and proposed commissioner districts. Changes to the way the census approached race and ethnicity mean that comparing the districts using 2010 and 2020 data wouldn’t be an appropriate comparison. For example, individuals who reported being a single race in 2010 may have reported being two or more races in 2020 because of changes in the way the questions were asked. As a result, we applied the 2020 demographic data to both the existing commissioner districts and the proposed districts. The table below shows the comparison.

Relatively slight changes in commission district borders resulted in very little change in demographics

As described later in this report, we solicited community input for our redistricting process. Some people who provided input identified their community as being their neighborhood, and others said their community was their school or school district. These communities of common interest sometimes conflict with the requirement to utilize existing geographic or political boundaries, such as state legislative districts. We were still able to keep most neighborhoods together within districts, but as they are just one proxy for communities of common interest, we prioritized other criteria like equity and geographic and political boundaries ahead of others.

We informed the public and solicited community members’ input

In August, we started work to inform the community about redistricting. We provided information about redistricting in our monthly newsletter and through social media.  We also conducted outreach via email and in person to a wide range of community groups, including culturally specific groups serving Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. The Board of County Commissioners, Office of Community Involvement, and County Communications also helped get redistricting messages out to communities.

On October 15, our office ended a month’s long process where people could share comments about existing boundaries we should try not to impact and communities we should try not to divide. We provided feedback forms online in English, Russian, Somali, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese. With the cooperation of the Library District and their branch staff, we had hard copies of these forms at all library branches. We received 48 feedback forms. The majority of comments we received were about keeping areas together, such as keeping a neighborhood fully in one district, and keeping east county cities in one district. 

Also in October, we launched another way for people to weigh in on commissioner district boundaries. People had through November 19 to comment on the proposed boundaries. People could view an interactive map, static maps comparing current district boundaries with proposed, and text descriptions that compare the current and proposed boundaries. For both public input opportunities, people could also provide comment by video or audio recording your answers and emailing them to our office. We received a variety of comments, looked for common themes in the comments, and incorporated them when they did not conflict with Charter requirements.

Redistricting methodology

In preparing our redistricting plan, we analyzed existing boundaries, considered alternative boundaries, and assessed them according to the criteria presented above. We consulted with the Multnomah County Elections Division, reached out to community members and groups, solicited input via the County Auditor website, utilized data made available to us by the U.S. Census Bureau, and relied on the mapping resources of the Multnomah County GIS program and technical assistance from the County Attorney.

We solicited community input for our redistricting process, as described in the section above. We did not hold public hearings or meetings due to the pandemic, but we did attend several

community events in person. We posted a draft redistricting plan on the Auditor’s Office web site and solicited comments. See Appendix 2 for a guide to public engagement for redistricting.

The basic tenet that districts should be close to equal population combined with the County Charter’s requirement that new districts should retain the general geographic characteristics of the previous districts dictated the approach we used to redraw the lines. We then looked to use readily identifiable roads to make identification and description of boundaries as simple as possible. We worked with the County Elections Division to incorporate new political districts into the boundaries and to facilitate the drawing of new precinct boundaries. Finally, we did not divide any U.S. census blocks – doing so would have required us to estimate the population of each fraction of a block.

We also paid attention to other jurisdictional boundaries, such as school districts and neighborhoods, in an attempt to maintain continuity of communities of interest. However, because districts must be approximately equal in population and must also retain their general geographic characteristics we could not follow all of these boundaries.

This special project is required by Charter mandate and was included in our 2021 audit schedule. While it is not an audit, we generally followed government auditing standards, including conducting our internal quality control process, in doing this work.

Project staff

Auditor’s Office

Mark Ulanowicz, CIA, Principal Auditor

Mandi Hood, Constituent Relations Specialist

Department of County Assets - GIS

Benjamin Harper, GIS Analyst Senior

Redistricting 2021 Final Report (421.77 KB)