More Bubble: A County Called Metro

I got a nice letter from Jeff Mapes, one of the authors of the Oregonian “Voting in a Bubble” article I wrote about. While he was complimentary to my math, he claims it doesn’t contradict the points of the article and that I don’t understand the politics of the matter.

I think I do. And my point to Mr. Mapes was that Oregon’s county boundaries are arbitrary divisions that were set in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Multnomah County is geographically small and contains the state’s largest city (Portland) and fourth largest city (Gresham). Multnomah County’s population grew by 100,000 between the censuses of 1970 and 2000 (more than 20%) and became much more urban in the process. It’s almost completely urbanized, unlike any other county in the state. When I was a kid, there were still farms all around Gresham. Now there are subdivisions, apartment buildings, strip malls, and factories. Since urban areas tend to vote Democratic, it’s no real surprise that as people moved into the new city, that the percentage of Democratic voters would go up.

A quarter-century ago, as governments in the Portland region planned for the future, they formed an organization called Metro. Metro handles planning issues for much of Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties, covering the entire metropolitan area (at least that on the Oregon side of the Columbia River). So say things had gone a little farther and the three counties had been merged into one sometime in the late ’70s instead of just creating a new government agency. The new county — Metro County — would have cast a total of 748,334 votes. Kerry would have received 451,034 of those votes. That’s 60%. It’s just 9% over the state average, 12% over the national average. Not much of a story there.

So where do you draw the line?