I became aware late in November that the League of Women Voters has an active interest in eliminating gerrymandering — a foul practice that has made a mockery of our republic for over 200 years.
This practice can be imposed by whomever is charged to redistrict the state after decennial censuses. Often this is the Legislature, essentially its controlling party. While redistricting is intended to equalize citizen power within the state's congressional districts, the juggling of district demarcations can provide partisan control and corrupt the intent. This advantage is manifested in party control of the House of Representatives and, subsequently, the Electoral College.
As a league member and having advocated nonpartisan redistricting in six letters to the editor since 2001, I helped publicize the Dec. 5 redistricting forum at the Corvallis library. The turnout showed the subject to be of considerable interest. Perhaps they were not as disappointed as I to find the "forum" was a well-polished, slide presentation of the Oregon League of Women Voters plan for redistricting that would be advanced to Oregon's Secretary of State. Thereby, it signaled that the time for league chapters' discussions of other plans had passed. The focus of its plan is the transfer of redistricting responsibility from the Legislature to an independent redistricting commission.
The league's plan requires an 11-member commission to be responsible for establishing district boundaries conforming to guideline criteria. The procedure for their selection is too extensive to detail here; suffice it to note that political party balance is maintained throughout the multistep process. The league describes its plan as a "Multipartisan Independent Commission." A minimum of 64 persons, including the secretary of state, would be called upon in this effort to select the commission's membership of three Democrats, three Republicans and five independents. The commission would conduct 10 statewide hearings during its deliberations.
"Multipartisan Independent" is not the nonpartisan redistricting that I've sought for nearly two decades. The league's plan of balanced partisanship is a step in the right direction, for it rids us of the generally unbalanced Legislature's influence. But it doesn't remove the party leanings of the commissioners in the deliberations. After two centuries of gerrymandering, why should we accept half-measure reform? Why — in this 21st century — isn't the computer being utilized to perform the redistricting in an efficient and fully nonpartisan manner? "Where there's a will, there's a way." Perhaps there's also a will to retain some aspect of human influence?
With computer redistricting, the only remaining criteria are: that populations of all districts be nearly equal; and districts be contiguous and compact to retain local commonality. Insofar as those criteria are not compromised, dominant features (county lines, major highways, rivers, etc.) would be useful in defining district boundaries. Computer input data need be only: the state's unadulterated population distribution, the number of districts allotted to the state; and a physical description of the state's boundary. Computer output would be the most compact district configuration map (or maps) determined, by iteration, as the least sum of the districts' perimeters.
I manually redistricted several states (those having few districts) with favorable results. The news that Oregon might gain a district following the 2020 Census moved me to preview the nonpartisan-created six-district Oregon. Using the Oregon Blue Book's estimated county populations (admittedly a coarse grid) the resulting district populations were all within 0.2 percent of the target, and only Multnomah County had to be split into two districts. A preview of six-district Oregon can be yours for a stamped, return-addressed, business envelope sent to me at: 654 NW Stewart Place, Corvallis, OR 97330. Anticipating a heavy demand, I've stockpiled two.