To: House Committee on Rules, Oregon Legislative Assembly
Re: HJR6 Proposes amendment to Oregon Constitution to increase number of Senators serving in Legislative Assembly to 36 and modifying Senate legislative districts to be coterminous with county boundaries.
The provision in HJR6 that states “The county from which a Senator is elected shall constitute the legislative district of the Senator” is contrary to the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964) ruled:
By holding that, as a federal constitutional requisite, both houses of a state legislature must be apportioned on a population basis, we mean that the Equal Protection Clause requires that a State make an honest and good faith effort to construct districts, in both houses of its legislature, as nearly of equal population as is practicable. (page 577)
Whatever the means of accomplishment, the overriding objective must be substantial equality of population among the various districts, so that the vote of any citizen is approximately equal in weight to that of any other citizen in the State. (page 579)
Changing the apportionment of the Oregon State Senate to one senator per county would create a malapportionment ratio between Multnomah County and Wheeler County of 581 using figures from the 2010 Census. This enormous population inequality and unequal weighting of votes among senate districts would not comply with U.S. Supreme Court precedent set in Reynolds, which has not been overturned.
To: Senate Committee on Rules, Oregon Legislative Assembly
Re: SB211 Establishing Procedures for Electing Precinct Committeepersons.
Oregon precinct committeeperson elections function as volunteer recruiting campaigns for county political parties. With more positions than candidates in most cases, precinct committeepersons are elected without competition. Voters lack any meaningful choice or influence because voting can’t change the outcome. Rarely is a listed candidate not elected. Therefore, the method that Oregon uses to elect precinct committeepersons is substantially the same as a call to convention.
The proposed changes in SB211 don’t really alter the dynamics of precinct committeeperson elections. Reducing the number of precinct committeepersons will increase competition in a few precincts, but not all. The new rules on write-in candidates will likely reduce the number of precinct committeepersons.
Even when precinct committeeperson elections are competitive, several aspects dilute and debase the value of voting such as at-large elections and malapportionment. At-large elections bias results toward the dominate faction excluding minority interests. This may contribute to the decline in major party membership seen in recent decade as fewer voters see there values and interests represented. The seats are also apportioned by electors not party members. This gives the disproportionate influence to areas where a party membership is lowest. With the adoption of postal voting for all elections in Oregon, precincts are no longer relevant political units.
I recommend that the office of precinct committeeperson be eliminated to reduce the costs of administration and be replaced with a call to convention. A much lower cost, a one page flyer could be inserted into primary election ballots produced by the political parties calling registered party members to the county convention. This would likely result in more volunteers for political parties at much lower cost to taxpayers.