On Wednesday, December 9, the Oklahoma County Redistricting Committee held a town hall meeting to hear constituents’ concerns about how district lines will be redrawn in 2021. It was in-person but others not there could call and email in their questions and listen in.
When the national census is completed every ten years, each state is tasked with redistricting their local house and senate seats in order to better represent citizens based on new population data.
Redistricting is not a one-man job, which is why Oklahoma has been divided into eight redistricting subcommittees for house seats.
While the 2020 Census results will not arrive until April 2021, nearly every subcommittee is scheduling town halls to address citizens concerns.
Oklahoma house members are in a unique situation as the state’s constitution does not lay out explicit guidelines on how they should redistrict. Meanwhile, there are constitutional guidelines for state senate redistricting procedures.
Democratic Rep. Ajay Pittman and Republican Rep. Nicole Miller were vice chair and chair of Oklahoma County’s redistricting committee. They also hosted the town hall meeting.
Free Press covered the town hall meeting virtually and you can watch it in full by clicking here.
The meeting started with a presentation by former Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon. His presentation provided an educational background on redistricting.
“[Redistricting] should be a process that is conducted for and by the people,” Shannon said.
Some of the main takeaways from his report were that the state legislature determines the structure of Oklahoma’s congressional districts and that the first election to be held with newly redistricted house and senate seats will take place in 2022.
He also emphasized that redistricting is required to ensure that the “one person, one vote” philosophy in American elections still holds true.
In terms of reappointment—the allocation congressional seats to states—Oklahoma will most likely not lose any congressional seats. However, larger states like California are projected to lose seats while Texas is expected to gain a few.
He also highlighted the guidelines that the Oklahoma State Senate must follow such as considering compactness, population, area, preservation of political subdivisions, and economic and political interests when redistricting.
Even though the House does not have any guidelines, it adopted its own, which were influenced by the Senate.
Shannon mentioned some 2011 House guidelines like fairness to minority groups, having a population increase or decrease no greater than 6% from redistricting, and preservation of political subdivisions.
It’s estimated that Oklahoma’s population will be roughly 3.9 million people, which would require every house district to have nearly 40,000 citizens and every senate district to consist of almost 83,000 people.
Shannon explained that after the census results are released, legislators will be given a computer-generated map of their districts that they will have the chance to revise.
Multiple citizens from Oklahoma County towns outside of Oklahoma City such as Choctaw and Jones said that their towns are not being properly represented because they are split by two or more house districts.
Ray Poland, Mayor of Jones, explained that his town is represented by two house and senate districts, which makes matters difficult.
Carol Goodwin, President and CEO for the Choctaw Area Chamber of Commerce, echoed a similar message.
“It does become difficult when we have towns that are really small like Nicoma Park, for instance, that are really the corner of several different districts,” Goodwin explained.
“It becomes very difficult for us as a community to really come together and get very much done when this is happening with our house district, with our senate district, and even with our congressional district.”
Others who spoke asked if maps could be suggested to committees (yes, it is possible as long as a fully redistricted map of the state is submitted).
The public will also be allowed to view a demo of the state’s redistricting software, Maptitude, next week.
Jonathan Krems, an Oklahoma County resident, expressed that he had heard rumors that there would be two additional house seats added to Oklahoma County.
“If two additional house seats in Oklahoma County are going to be placed, how are we going to maintain 101 house seats statewide,” Krems asked.
Rep. Pittman explained that there will not be any additional house seats added and that redrawing would compensate for population increase.
Concerns about partisan redistricting and gerrymandering were brought up and the committee responded by saying that gerrymandering would be prevented as each redistricting committee consists of an equal number of Republican and Democrat lawmakers.
There will be two more town hall meetings held by the Oklahoma County Redistricting Subcommittee on December 21 and January 25. Citizens are welcomed to send questions and comments to email@example.com.
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