© 2023 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Oregon redistricting measure blocked from November ballot by appeals court decision

An attempt to take the redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines out of the hands of the Oregon Legislature and governor has failed following an intense legal battle.

Backers of an initiative aimed at ending political gerrymandering in Oregon lost their final legal attempt to win a spot on the November ballot.

Laura Fosmire, a spokeswoman for Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno, confirmed Wednesday that the measure “will not appear on the ballot” as the result of a new decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The initiative would have established an independent commission to redraw congressional and legislative district lines to account for population changes. That job is now handled by the Legislature and the governor, meaning that Democrats will likely have full control over the redistricting process next year after the 2020 Census is finished.

The appeals court said there was no way to properly resolve the legal issues in the case before the Thursday deadline for finalizing which measures go on the 2020 Oregon ballot.

Norman Turrill, an Oregon League of Women Voters official and a chief sponsor of the initiative, said he was disappointed by the decision. But he added that backers would continue to push for the “fair, transparent and impartial” redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines in the state. The measure was backed by a coalition of government watchdog groups and business interests — and it was opposed by groups allied with Democrats.

There was no immediate reaction from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who went to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight legal efforts to place the initiative on the ballot.

Backers of the redistricting initiative failed to get the 150,000 voter signatures required before the normal July 2 deadline for qualifying. But they filed a federal lawsuit saying that they faced severe restrictions in getting the needed signatures because the pandemic forced the shutdowns of many events and businesses. They said that violated their rights to engage in the political process.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane agreed and set a lower signature threshold — 58,789 — that backers were able to meet.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 11 stayed McShane’s order. That left only a narrow path to the ballot. And on Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said it was clear the clock was going to run out.

The appeals court said it would send the issue back to Judge McShane for further proceedings on whether accommodations should be made to initiative campaigns if the pandemic continues in future election cycles. One judge, Ryan Nelson, dissented. He said he would declare the whole issue moot since the measure won’t be on the ballot.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.