City of Portland Still Doesn’t Know Voter Registration Data for Its New Voting Districts

That’s partly because of delays at the Multnomah County Elections Division and partly because the freshly drawn districts split up existing voting precincts.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY: Portlanders at the Winter Lights Festival in downtown. (Brian Burk)

This fall, Portlanders will vote for whom they’d like to see represent their geographic area of the city on the next Portland City Council, thanks to a 2022 charter reform measure that overhauled how the city is governed and mandated district-based elections.

An Independent District Commission drew the boundaries of the four geographic voting districts last fall, paying special attention to not splitting up existing neighborhood and geographic boundaries, keeping “communities of common interest” intact, and ensuring equal population.

But six months after the commission approved its final map, city officials still do not know how many voters are in each of the four districts—nor what their demographics are, including political party affiliation.

Though the city drew the new district map, the responsibility of mapping voter registration for the new districts fell to the Multnomah County Elections Division. That’s because the county oversees all elections within the county, including city races.

Political consultant Jake Weigler, who has run various City Council and mayoral campaigns for more than a decade, says the delay is causing hardship for candidates.

“The lack of data has been a headache,” Weigler says. “Knowing how many voters you’ll be talking to is the starting point for how every campaign builds a budget and a grassroots voter contact strategy. It’s unfortunate that in an election intended to empower grassroots campaigns, the way these districts were drawn has made it impossible for candidates to get this foundational piece of information.”

The Elections Division initially said in December it would have the data ready for candidates in January.

Determining voter registration for freshly drawn districts—especially when those districts split up existing voter precincts, as the city’s new districts do—requires the use of advanced geographic mapping systems and manual proofing, says Multnomah County Elections Division director Tim Scott. Scott says his office didn’t have enough time to determine the new voter registration data between when the District Commission finalized the map in August and last November’s election. (The division is also calculating voter registration for a new water-related district.)

The more recent delays, Scott says, were caused by a lack of capacity in the county’s IT office.

“If they happened to use precinct lines [to draw the boundaries], we could give people exact numbers now,” Scott told WW back in December. But that’s not how the District Commission drew its boundaries. “It’s a lot of manual work.”

Scott says he expects the data to be available sometime next week. In the meantime, the Elections Division has provided voter registration estimates to candidates who have requested them.

Under the city’s new voting map, District 1 covers all of Portland east of Interstate 205; District 2 covers much of North Portland and some of Northeast; District 3 covers Southeast Portland west of Interstate -205; and District 4 covers the city west of the Willamette River and a sliver of lower Southeast Portland.

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