Oklahoma group wants redistricting left to bipartisan panel

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
10/31/2019 10:30 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A group trying to prevent partisan gerrymandering of Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional districts filed an initiative petition Monday that seeks a statewide vote on whether to create a bipartisan commission to redraw district boundaries.

Creating an independent commission would open up the redistricting process to more citizen input and help stop politicians from “picking their own voters,” said Andy Moore, founder and executive director of Let’s Fix This, which aims to help Oklahomans engage politically.

“Right now, politicians draw lines for their own gain to get re-elected, and we don’t know how they do it,” Moore said after the petition was filed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office. “Politicians have drawn the maps in such a way to ensure they get re-elected, regardless of what they do in their actual work.”

Under the plan, the power to draw both legislative and federal congressional districts would be transferred from the Legislature to a bipartisan nine-member commission. The commission would include an equal number of Republicans, Democrats and members unaffiliated with either party, and they would be selected by a group of retired state Supreme Court and appellate judges.

“It is fully open and transparent,” Moore said. Voting district lines would be drawn in accordance with federal law and community interests and the commission’s work would be subject to the state Open Records and Open Meetings acts, he said.

Republican House Speaker Charles McCall criticized the effort as an unnecessary “solution in search of a problem.”

“The convoluted 14-page process the petitioners want makes the system more complicated and less accountable to voters,” said McCall, whose party has big majorities in the Legislature and oversaw the last round of redistricting. He said the existing redistricting process is simpler and more accountable “because the buck stops with the legislators who the voters can keep or replace depending on how they feel about their work.”

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat described the petition as “a redistricting coup” and said the effort is funded by out-of-state special interests ”to support radical progressive viewpoints in Oklahoma and other states.”

“The Oklahoma Senate will do its job and handle redistricting in a fair manner,” Treat said.

Those behind the effort will require almost 178,000 to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for the November 2020 election ballot. No date has been set for the group to begin collecting signatures.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years following the release of U.S. Census data, which will be collected next year. Under the Oklahoma constitution, each legislative chamber updates its voting districts to reflect population changes and other factors.

Legislative leaders have said that members of bipartisan redistricting committees will begin the redistricting process in 2020 and that new district lines will be finalized through legislation considered in 2021.

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