ENID, Okla. — Thursday evening, more than 30 people gathered at Autry Technology Center to hear from members of the Oklahoma Senate about the state redistricting process, asking questions and giving their input on the process.
“It was good — great feedback, and that’s what we’re looking for, as we move forward, to give to the committee to the senators and the reps so they know what the community wants,” said Keith Beall, redistricting director for the Oklahoma Senate. “That was the purpose of this meeting.”
Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, welcomed everyone to the town hall meeting, which was the eighth of nine in-person meetings the Senate is hosting, and introduced Beall as the main speaker.
Once every 10 years, the Oklahoma Legislature is required by law to redraw its congressional and legislative boundaries to reflect changes in population according to the U.S. Census data.
“People always ask me, ‘Why do we gotta do this?’ The main reason is due to population shifts within the state, the need to redistrict is necessary to preserve the ‘one person, one vote,’” Beall said. “‘One person, one vote’ is a constitutional standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court that all legislative districts should be approximately equal in population.”
Beall said the Oklahoma Constitution is quiet when it comes to state House or U.S. Congressional lines, but the Senate has redistricting principles it must follow, including population, compactness, area, political units, historical precedents, economic and political interests, contiguous territory and other major factors to the extent possible.
Several people at the Jan. 21 town hall meeting had the opportunity to ask Beall questions regarding the redistricting process.
Doug Pethoud had a question about the “one person, one vote” matter, citing Section V-9A of the Oklahoma Constitution, which states, “The state shall be apportioned into 48 senatorial districts in the following manner: the 19 most populous counties, as determined by the most recent Federal Decennial Census, shall constitute 19 senatorial districts with one senator to be nominated and elected from each district; the 58 less populous counties shall be joined into 29 two-county districts with one senator to be nominated and elected from each of the two-county districts … Each senatorial district, whether single county or multi-county, shall be entitled to one senator, who shall hold office for four years; provided that any senator, serving at the time of the adoption of this amendment, shall serve the full time for which he was elected. Vitalization of senatorial districts shall provide for one-half of the senators to be elected at each general election.”
“My big question was why do our Senate districts not match our Constitution,’” Pethoud said.
Beall answered Pethoud by saying there was a legal case in the 1960s, Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964), challenging the “one person, one vote,” and it was changed from the “one person per two-county” to “one person, one vote” to comply with a federal court order, and that was when the principles were added to the Constitution.
Pethoud said he has more clarity on the situation after the meeting, and said he wants to better understand the Supreme Court case, which he said is “not law but an opinion.”
Oklahoma currently has five congressional districts, with Garfield County being in the 3rd Congressional District, Beall said.
“This map will have to see some changes based on population trends that have occurred throughout the state,” Beall said.
Population is the main driver in redistricting, Beall said. As of July 2019, Oklahoma’s population is estimated to be 3,956,971, an increase of 205,620 or 5.5% since the U.S. Census from 2010.
“If you live in a part of the state where your district or area hasn’t grown 5.5%, your district is going to have to get people, and if you live in a part of the state that has grown over 5.5%, your district is going to have to give up people.”
Beall said the Oklahoma Senate has 17 districts that are over 5.5% and 31 under, so those 17 will have to give population up to the 31.
Karen Eifert-Jones, who lives in House District 41, gave her input on the district having a more urban population in the south but a rural population up north.
“My point was simply that the district doesn’t make sense the way it’s drawn geographically, and I was just supposing that perhaps it has been drawn that way to keep rural representation, which is important,” Eifert-Jones said. “I didn’t really have a question as much as I wanted to make a point that it was important to us that the districts make sense, and that the person who’s voted in has a chance to represent the people that are within it.”
Eifert-Jones said she will be following the redistricting process as it continues throughout the year, saying she won’t be shy about giving her input and following up. She also thanked District 41 Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader, R-Piedmont, who was at the meeting, for doing an “excellent job” representing the district.
“It is a balancing act,” Crosswhite Hader said, “and (Eifert-Jones) really touched my heart saying that, because to meet the needs of this suburban area that’s pretty densely packed, and then Kingfisher County is pretty light for me, and then to get back up into Enid where it’s a lot more concentrated — it’s a balancing act ... I truly have worked to try to protect my district and make sure that they feel represented.”
Public map submissions are being accepted for the Senate, Beall said. The map plans submitted must be a statewide plan, use the population data derived from the 2020 Census, conform to Senate-adopted guidelines and be submitted in a compatible electronic format for importation into the Senate redistricting software.
“That’s why we require the public map submissions to be a state one-plan, because just a one-off, someone doing just one district — it’s like building a puzzle with just one piece,” Beall said. “They all have to eventually fit together.”
The Senate will host a virtual town hall with the House at 6 p.m. Jan. 25, and the next and last in-person town hall meeting with the Senate will be Jan. 28 in Tulsa.
The deadline for the Census to deliver P.L. 94-171 redistricting data to states is April 1, though Beall said that date is fluid and likely will be pushed back.
The town hall meeting was livestreamed for those unable to attend in person, and it has been archived on www.oksenate.gov/live-chamber for anyone who wants to view it at a later time.