Charter Changes 

Lane County suggests changes to its home rule document to prevent gerrymandering

Laurie Trieger, Lane County Commission chair. Photo by Todd Cooper

Proposed amendments to the Lane County Home Rule Charter seeking to prevent gerrymandered voting districts and confusing district names will be discussed in a public hearing in June before potentially making it to the ballot for the Nov. 5 general election. 

On May 7, the Lane County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to push three charter amendments forward to a public hearing, most importantly one that prevents gerrymandering in the redistricting of county electoral boundaries.

Redistricting is a process that happens once every decade to account for changes in an electoral population. Currently, the county commissioners choose the final district map.

District boundaries determine who residents can vote for. Gerrymandering is when redistricting is used to erect political boundaries around or for electoral constituencies to favor one party or class. There were allegations in 2011 that the right-leaning Lane County Commission gerrymandered the North Eugene District to lean more Republican.

If the commissioners decide to move forward, the changes would go to the public for a vote.

Charter review also occurs every decade in Lane County. The current Charter Review Committee (CRC) was commissioned in July 2022 and first met in November 2022. 

The charter “is the community’s document, because it is the sort-of constitution of how we run our county government,” says Commission Chair Laurie Trieger. 

In May, the CRC recommended three changes to the charter: a revision of commission district titles and descriptions, formalizing the redistricting process and the Independent Redistricting Committee (IRC), and an extension to the CRC’s operational timeframe.

The CRC recommends modifying names and descriptions of commissioner districts, removing all geographic nomenclature and switching to numbered designations — hoping to alleviate confusion surrounding the continued expansion and growth in the more urban areas of the county. 

For example, Commissioner Heather Buch’s District 5 is known as East Lane, but it wraps around the entirety of Eugene and Springfield — it even reaches as far west as Coyote Creek and Green Hill Road. “That makes zero sense,” Buch says. “Because the majority of my voters are in Churchill and South Lane.”

Instead of “East Lane,” it would just be called District 5.

Alongside new descriptions, the CRC wants to formalize the IRC by enshrining it within the county charter instead of Lane County Code. Left in the code, commissioners could just vote to change or remove that process. 

Any changes to the county charter require a public vote.

“Putting this independent redistricting committee together was a way to keep the process led by the constituents,” Trieger says.

The IRC consists of 15 members, five of whom are selected by a commissioner and the rest determined by those five members, plus an extra three alternates. The last redistricting process was in 2022, coinciding with the new Census data.

“It’s a double-edged sword because it all depends on who’s on the board of majority at the time of redistricting, and who they put in as the first five,” Buch says. “And that can swing the rest of the committee members.”

The committee would then design at least two redistricting (but no more than four) maps based on Census data to be presented before the commissioners every decade. Previously in 2000, all redistricting maps were selected by the Oregon Secretary of State. In 2010, the final approval of the district map was handed to the Board of Commissioners.

Following a series of no more than five public hearings, the IRC selects the new district map. Then, for any redistricting plan to be effective in an election, it must be placed within an ordinance, a piece of legislation enacted by the county authority, at least six months prior.

As well as a new redistricting committee, CRC members would like a longer timeframe, giving them two years to complete their recommendations instead of just one.

According to county documents, the cost to amend the charter last time in 2012 — outside of paying the staff to do the work — was about $71,000 for printing fees and voter pamphlets. 

Besides the recommended additions to the charter, the CRC asked for several sections of the document to be repealed.

On April 30, the CRC recommended a full repeal of a section regarding an income tax cap, as there is no county-wide income tax; cutting a section about East Alton Baker Park, which was sold to Eugene; and repealing the wording on spending limitations, as current state law governs county spending.

The commissioners passed all the repeals unanimously, also heading towards a public hearing alongside the revisions on either June 11 or 25. According to County Public Information Officer Devon Ashbridge, they will be listed on an upcoming agenda after the FY25 budget is adopted.

After deliberation at a public hearing, the Lane County Commission will order a voters’ pamphlet, if desired, and then it’s off until the general election on Nov. 4.

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