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About two years ago, the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma (LWVOK), along with another nonpartisan group, People Not Politicians, started the initiative petition process with the goal of having a redistricting initiative petition on the November 2020 ballot. The initiative petition laid out a plan to end partisan gerrymandering. The key provision in this petition was to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and give that task to a citizen-led independent commission. Our redistricting petition was released in October 2019.It withstood two court challenges, and by the time it was released by the secretary of state’s office for signature gathering, the country was amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which made it almost impossible to gather the required 178,000 signatures within a 90-day period. The petition was put on the shelf. Another redistricting initiative petition was issued in August 2020, but it was withdrawn after the legislature promised an open and fair redistricting process.
We commend the legislature for their openness with several in-person and virtual town halls that featured the redistricting process. They also allowed citizens to submit district maps. A lack of openness, though, presented itself recently with the legislature’s slowness in releasing their proposed maps. The timeframe from the release of the maps to the special legislative session on November 15 has given little time to mobilize for organizations like ours.
The district maps are mostly fair and well-drawn. Unfortunately, though, the congressional map is gerrymandered. Fifty-six percent of Hispanic residents in Oklahoma County have been taken out of Congressional District 5 (CD 5) and placed in the same district as Guymon, which is CD 3. With the map cutting out more than half of the Hispanic population in Oklahoma County, CD 5 will be less competitive. Splitting an urban Hispanic area is racial gerrymandering and is against the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Redistricting must be fair, sensible, and be guided by two fundamental principles: one citizen, one vote; and community integrity. Communities, such as the Hispanic district in Oklahoma County, should not be split. If the legislature approves this map, the Hispanic vote will be diluted. Quoting former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating: “The purpose of redistricting is to assure a fair representation for our people; not to protect or to create partisan advantage.”
Maps should be fair, and gerrymandering does not belong in Oklahoma.
I encourage citizens to contact their legislators today and ask them to approve the congressional map that was presented to the legislature by Andy Moore on behalf of LWVOK and People Not Politicians. This map was fairly drawn and kept communities as whole as possible.
Jan Largent grew up in Chelsea, OK and earned a BS in Special Education at OSU. She taught in Ponca City and Broken Arrow. She and her husband spent several years moving to different locations with his job. They had a three-year assignment in Venezuela where she enjoyed volunteering at a local orphanage and where she also made lifelong friends. She is a Stillwater League member and has served on the LWVOK board for three terms with two of those as board president.