Jul 12, 2023 - Politics

New voting maps aim to bridge Portland's east/west divide

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Three draft maps of Portland's future city council voting districts are circulating around the city, posing one big question: Which chunk of Portland's east side should be joined with the west side?

Why it matters: In 2024, Portland will stop electing council members citywide and instead vote by district for the first time, per charter amendments voters approved last year.

Driving the news: "This is a historic moment for the city," Josh Laurente, co-chair of the Independent District Commission, told Axios. "We're working on a very fast timeline."

  • Commissioners are accepting public comment on the proposed district lines until July 22, and must finalize district lines no later than Sept. 1.

How it works: In addition to keeping people with common interests together — such as shared school districts, socioeconomic groups or ethnic communities — the commission drawing the lines also tried to follow existing geographic or political boundaries.

Details: One district remains the same across all three draft maps: the farthest-east district, uniting the Lents neighborhood and Jade District with communities east of I-205.

  • The two districts that make up the rest of Portland's east side are drawn slightly differently on each map, trading neighborhoods along Sandy Boulevard.
  • The west side of Portland is all in one district, but its population falls short, so roughly 20,000 east-siders need to be added on.

What they're saying: "Each of these maps are offering a different rationale for how to best connect east side communities to that west side district," Laurente said.

  • One, prioritizing neighborhood boundaries and demographic similarities, adds the far southern neighborhoods of Sellwood and the Reed College area.
  • Another, prioritizing transportation connections, adds a skinny line along the river from Sandy to Portland's southern edge.
  • The third gives a chunk of the central east side to the west side voting district.

Context: The final map will include four voting districts, which in 2024 will pick three city council members each.

  • Portland's new city council will have 12 members, up from five now.

The intrigue: In addition to putting out three draft maps of their own, the commissioners have been looking at nearly 200 maps drawn by other Portlanders.

Three maps of the same city, using blue, green, orange and teal to mark different sections.
Not the official draft maps — these were ideas submitted by other Portlanders. Screenshot from the nearly 200 submissions to the Independent District Commission.

Reality check: Anything that is really different from four contiguous quadrants is a non-starter.

  • "Some of those maps that were submitted just don't meet the criteria," Laurente said. "I think some of them were just folks having fun with the mapping tool."

What's next: There are five more opportunities to contribute your thoughts in person or online — one each day starting Wednesday evening and ending on Sunday.

The bottom line: Whatever map is finalized now will be used for city elections until 2030, when they'll start to be updated after each census.


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