Meeting addresses questions, takes feedback ahead of redistricting

Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, during the presentation, said Southwest Oklahoma has lost quite a bit of population in the last decade. He asked what the likelihood of the area losing a seat and a larger area, such as a metro, gaining that seat. McEntire is a member of the Southwest Oklahoma Subcommittee for redistricting.

A public meeting hosted Monday night in Lawton addressed questions and concerns related to the upcoming redistricting in Oklahoma as well as accepted feedback from those present.

The meeting, hosted by State Reps. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton and Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin, took place at 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at the Comanche County Farm Bureau located in Lawton. Hasenbeck also represents a small portion of Stephens County.

Under law, the Legislature must redraw its legislative and congressional district boundaries every 10 years, following the timeline of the U.S. census, as a way to reflect changes in population. The House and Senate work together to formulate their respective house’s districts.

The meeting was part of a series hosted by the Oklahoma House of Representatives Redistricting Committee and its eight regional subcommittees. Lawton and Duncan fall into the Southwest Oklahoma Regional Subcommittee, led by Caldwell and vice-chaired by Hasenbeck.

Other members of the Southwest Oklahoma Subcomittee include Rep. Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan, Rep. Brad Boles, R-Marlow, Rep. Gerrid Kendrix, R-Altus, Rep. Dick Lowe, R-Amber, Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, and Rep. Rande Worthen, R-Lawton.

The purpose of the meeting was to provide information on the redistricting process and obtain public input to help determine the redistricting.

Former Lawton Rep. and Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon led the discussion on the redistricting process.

The data obtained from the census, according to Shannon, ensures each community receives equal representation.

The Oklahoma Senate is guided by a list of principles when it comes to redistricting, however, Shannon said when the Legislature convenes, the House will adopt redistricting guidelines. The Oklahoma Constitution is silent, according to Shannon, on criteria for House plans, but the House has a tradition of adopting its own guidelines, similar to those of the Senate’s, each decade.

The last time this happened, in 2011, the House’s guidelines included:

• fairness to minority, ethnic and political groups.

• population standard deviation of no more than 6% (+/-3%) per House district in 2011, 1% (+/-.5%) for congressional districts.

• preservation of political subdivisions.

• districts must be contiguous, and compactness will be a consideration.

• preservation of communities of interest based on social, cultural ethnic and economic similarities.

• preservation of core of existing districts.

Under the House, there are 101 seats.

Shannon said population changes have the largest impact on how districts will look for the next decade. Districts and areas that haven’t kept up with the average state growth will have to add population and grow in size while districts and areas that have seen growth over the state average will need to lose population and shrink in size.

A current estimate for 2019 shows Oklahoma has a population of around 3,956,971 people. That number will be finalized when the 2020 census is released in April 2021. In April 2010, that number was at 3,751,351, which is a 5.5% estimated change or an increase of 205,620 people in the state.

The estimated House representation for 2019 totals 39,178 people per seat. In 2010, each House seat or district represented 37,142 people. The redistricting will add an estimated 2,036 people per seat, representing a 5.5% growth. Those numbers will be finalized when the 2020 census data releases.

On the Senate side, the 2019 estimated representation totals 82,437 people per seat. In 2010, the number of people represented by a single seat included a total population of 78,153. That shows an estimated growth of about 4,284 people per seat or a growth of 5.5%.

Before the 2020 census took place, the hope was Oklahoma had grown enough to add a congressional seat to its count. Shannon said while Oklahoma grew, “we just didn’t grow enough to justify adding a seat,” but speculates Oklahoma’s congressional districts will remain at five.

The first step in the redistricting process is engaging the community and getting direct input from citizens across the state. The House has done this the last two times redistricting has taken place in Oklahoma. Both the House and the Senate will host nine town hall meetings a piece across the state in the coming weeks to handle redistricting further.

The Legislature has until "sine die adjournment," May 28, to complete the schematics. Plans for congressional, House and Senate lines must go through the legislative process like all other measures, and is subject to a veto by the governor.

Lawmakers from both the House and Senate redistricting committees are now asking for public input. At the end of the presentation on how redistricting works, attendees were given a chance to ask questions or express concerns.

Questions and concerns during the meeting focused on rural vs. urban areas and population density as well as the decreasing population in Southwest Oklahoma and how that will affect seats in the area.

Rep. McEntire, during the presentation, said Southwest Oklahoma has lost quite a bit of population in the last decade. He asked what the likelihood of the area losing a seat and a larger area, such as a metro, gaining that seat.

While there is not enough analysis on whether that could happen or not, the plan from last time did result in a move of House District 60, which was on the border of Southwestern Oklahoma and moved closure to Canadian County. Those answering questions told McEntire it could become a possibility if the population is dwindling and something has to be done.

Other concerns from the audience included the redistricting process remaining non-partisan. The data base supplied from the census will not include partisan data. Numbers released will include population size, race and ethnic data.

Another member of the audience asked what legislators would like to see from the process. Caldwell responded and said he wants the process to accurately reflect the people.

“My biggest goal out of this is to accurately reflect the will of the people of Southwest Oklahoma,” Caldwell said. “My role in the process as the chairman and Rep. Hasenbeck as the vice chairman … is that we want to see, how do we promote Southwest Oklahoma, put the best foot forward for lack of a better term. How do we accurately reflect the population and the general consensus that is in Southwest Oklahoma? How do we accurately reflect — say, some place like west Lawton is different than Tipton, or something along (those) lines — and how do we balance that? And that’s my goal, is to make sure those goals and desires are accurately reflected of the people in which we are supposed to represent and will represent for the next 10 years (SIC).”

If successful, the new district boundaries will be used to conduct state congressional and legislative elections running from 2022 through 2030.

Shannon said citizens can submit their feedback online by emailing the House at redistrictoklahoma2020@okhouse.gov as well and even draw maps and submit them with software available on the website.

Information about other meetings scheduled across the state can be found at https://oksenate.gov/press-releases/oklahoma-senate-house-announce-statewide-redistricting-meeting-dates. A map showing meetings throughout the state can be found at https://okhouse.maps.arcgis.com/apps/instant/minimalist/index.html?appid=ef335bbb2dea41dc9eb4Ibb029d5a8800. 

Additional information about the redistricting process can be found at https://okhouse.gov/Publications/Redistricting.aspx.

 

Check it out

A recording of the meeting is available at https://okhouse.gov/Video/Default.aspx. Anyone who was unable to attend the meeting may email comments to redistrictoklahoma2020@okhouse.gov. All comments and public testimony from the town hall meeting will be shared with the committee.

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