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OR remap: The MultCo effect

tricounty districts
Districts in the three counties

As Oregon’s legislative reapportionment hearings moved last week toward the Portland metro area, an obvious point – in legislative redistricting, if not congressional – came up: What about all those partial Multnomah districts?

Two points are most relevant to the critics of the current lines, and they raise reasonable questions. One is the political leaning of Multnomah County, Oregon’s largest – and overwhelmingly, as a whole, Democratic. The other is the plainly visible fact that a good many districts which include territory in the two neighboring suburban counties, Washington and Clackamas, reach into Multnomah for more voter-equalization population. Politically, Washington overall leans gently Democratic now, and Clackamas is a close call. So are these infusions of Multnomah people making more Democratic a bunch of Washington and Clackamas legislative districts that might otherwise be electing Republicans?

And there are a number of such districts. In the Oregon Senate there are four districts including parts of Multnomah and Washington, three with pieces of Multnomah and Clackamas, and one that has slices of all three counties. In a Senate of 30 members where the majority party maintains control by one seat, that matters. In the Oregon House, which is evenly divided between the parties, you can roughly double the number of seats split between the big three counties.

If you’re an Oregon Republican looking for avenues of improvement – or reasons why your party hasn’t done better recently – these are serious considerations.

A closer look at the vote totals of the legislative districts involved suggests that while the idea isn’t groundless, it also hasn’t made much practical difference. The reason is that the various parts of the three counties do not find the parties evenly scattered. In Washington County, for example, the rural western parts of the county are strongly Republican, but the eastern precincts – those around Beaverton and close to Portland – are nearly as Democratic as those across the line in Multnomah.

A second point is that most of these split-county districts are heavily based in just one county, and the small number of votes in the other would be enough to influence only the closest of races.

Did the Multnomah pie-slice lines alter any 2010 legislative elections? If you examine the numbers, it’s hard to make an argument that they did.

For a little more clarity, here’s how this plays out in the districts involved, using the voting results in 2010.

Senate 16 – Democratic Senator Betsy Johnson won here overall 28,182 to 22,657 for Republican Bob Horning, and she won Multnomah County. But MultCo’s contributed only 503 votes in grand total to the race: It made only a sliver of the difference; Johnson got most of her winning margin in Clatsop, and won four of the five counties in the district (Washington, a rural western slice of it, being the exception).

Senate 17 – Well over 80% of this district is in Washington County; there’d not be enough Multnomah County votes available to save a Democrat decisively losing in Washington. But Democratic Senator Suzanne Bonamici didn’t need the assist. While she did win the Multnomah piece of the district heavily, almost 3-1, she also won the Washington County portion by 3-2.

District 19 – In this district, with elements of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas, there’s a little better argument than in most for a “Multnomah effect.” But not by much. Democrat Richard Devlin won re-election over Republican Mary Kremer boosted by a 2-1 margin in the Multnomah section, but he also more narrowly won both Washington and Clackamas.

Senate 24 – Another district heavily based in just one of the counties – this time, more than 80% of the voters are in Multnomah, and just a small slice in Clackamas. Democrat Rod Monroe did lose the Clackamas portion, decisively, but his win in Multnomah was not overwhelming (taking 16,355 to 13,375 for Republican Rob Wheeler). This is basically a Multnomah district with a little Clackamas infusion.

Senate 26 – In this three-county district (Hood River along with Multnomah and Clackamas) Republican Chuck Thomsen won all three counties, and by comparable margins.

House 27 – Here as in a number of the other districts, Multnomah is only a small piece of the overall district – it contributes about a tenth of the voters here. And Democrat Tobias Read got similar margins in both the Washington and Multnomah areas, taking both decisively.

House 33 – An unusual case of a district split fairly closely between Washington and Multnomah. Democrat Mitch Greenlick cleanup in Multnomah with a 3-1 win there, but he won Washington by a healthy (if smaller) margin as well.

House 35 – A case somewhat like 33, where Democrat Margaret Doherty won more strongly in Multnomah (which is much the smaller part of the district) but prevailed in the Washington precincts too.

House 38 – In this three-county (Mult/Wash/Clack) district, Democrat Chris Garrett got his biggest margin (more than 2-1) in Multnomah, but won the other two as well.

House 41 – Democrat Carolyn Tomei won most strongly (about 4-1) in the smaller Multnomah section of the district, but she also won by about 2-1 in the larger Clackamas portion.

House 48 – More than two-thirds of the vote here is in Multnomah, which went decisively to Democrat Mike Schaufler. He lost the smaller Clackamas portion, but not by a lot.

House 51 – Republican Patrick Sheehan, who won here, did lose the Multnomah part of the district while winning (about 4-3) in Clackamas. But Multnomah’s voters amount to only about 5% of the voters here, hardly enough to make a difference except at the margins; and this is one of the more politically centrist parts of Multnomah.

House 52 – Includes Hood River County as well as Multnomah and Clackamas. Republican Mark Johnson won all three (including Multnomah) by similar margins.

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