Redistricting is the process of redrawing established County Commissioner district boundaries to account for changes in population following the U.S. Census, which occurs every ten years. County Charter requires the Auditor to prepare a plan to modify the district boundaries after the census if the population of any Commissioner district exceeds 103% of any other Commissioner district. The Auditor must present the plan to the Board of County Commissioners by August 1 of the year following the census.
In Multnomah County, the Chair, Sheriff, DA, and Auditor are elected countywide. Commissioners are elected to represent particular geographic areas and the people who live in their district.
How does redistricting work?
The Auditor's Office assesses the populations in each district every 10 years following the decennial census to help ensure each person in the county receives equal representation. This is one reason why having a complete census count is so important – census numbers help ensure that each person in our county benefits from equal representation at the county level. The census counts all of the population where they live and reports it down to the geography of the block level, such as the block where you live. Blocks are aggregated together into block-groups and then into census tracts, so we can calculate how many people live in a block, block-group, census track and so on up to how many live in each Commissioner district. Generally we add population and geography to districts that are under-the-ideal population and subtract from districts that are over-the-ideal, until all four districts are approximately equal in population.
What determines when redistricting should occur?
The process for redistricting is outlined in the County Charter. A key direction from the Charter is that the Auditor's Office determine if the population of any Commissioner district is 103% greater than the population of any other district. If the answer is no, then we don’t redistrict. If it’s yes, we do redistrict.
Section 3.15 of the Charter describes the redistricting process.
3.15 Apportionment of Commissioner Districts
Not later than August 1 in the year of the official release of each federal decennial census for Multnomah County, the auditor shall determine the population distribution among the commissioner districts specified by this charter. If the population of any commissioner district is more than 103 percent of the population of any other commissioner district, the auditor, in consultation with the Multnomah County elections division, shall prepare and present to the board of county commissioners not later than August 1, a plan for modifying the boundaries of the districts so that the population of no commissioner district will be more than 102 percent of the population of any other commissioner district, notwithstanding the delineation of commissioner districts by this charter. The board of county commissioners shall, within 45 days of the submission of the report, alter the boundaries of the commissioner districts as necessary by ordinance to provide for an approximately equal population distribution. Change in boundaries of the districts shall not affect taking of office of a commissioner-elect with respect to the term of office for which elected prior to the adoption of the reapportionment. The auditor shall, as nearly as possible, retain the general geographic characteristics of districts established by this charter.
How does the Auditor ensure fairness in redistricting?
All county elected officials serve in nonpartisan roles. This is important for redistricting because it reduces concern about gerrymandering. Redistricting has been designed to be as transparent as possible and as free as possible from any partisan influences.
Historically the Auditor’s Office has not conducted any research into the voter registration or voting patterns of any area of the county to prepare the redistricting plan. The office will maintain this practice in 2021 because it is a fair practice and it is also in the criteria that the State of Oregon prescribes for reapportioning congressional and legislative districts.
What about Gerrymandering and political favoritism?
The redistricting plan will not be designed to favor any political party, incumbent legislator, or any other person. In fact, County Charter essentially prohibits gerrymandering. It prescribes a clear process that is population based and supports fair, equal representation.
First, the County Commissioners (and all of Multnomah County’s elected officials) are non-partisan, so there is no built-in temptation to gerrymander, or draw districts to favor a political party. Second, the Charter provision of maintaining the general geographic characteristics of the existing districts would preclude any significant change other than to attain population equality.
Multnomah County hasn’t always had four commissioner districts?
Are there other guidelines the Auditor uses to draw the districts?
Yes, per the Charter, the Auditor consults with the Elections Division, which in the past has recommended following simple recognizable boundaries, such as streets that are major arterials. In 1991 and 2001 the Auditor’s Office also considered the guidelines adopted by the state (ORS 188.010), which include: contiguity; equal population; existing boundaries; communities of interest; transportation links; not favoring any political party, incumbent or other person; and, not diluting the voting strength of any language or ethnic minority group. Not diluting voting strength is also required by the federal Voting Rights Act.