OKLAHOMA CITY – With the finalized 2020 U.S. Census figures in hand, the Oklahoma Legislature will convene a special session on Nov. 15 to redraw the district boundaries for the state Senate and House of Representatives, and for the five U.S. House seats.
The session is only to address redistricting, which remains unfinished due to Census Bureau delays in collating the population data. Once the districts are redrawn, some Oklahomans will find themselves assigned to new districts and represented by different lawmakers.
In Oklahoma, the boundaries of the state’s five U.S. House districts are unlikely to change a great deal. However, the Census is also used to redraw the state Senate and House districts, which could change significantly.
Redistricting maps have already been proposed and approved for the state Senate and House based on preliminary pending Census data.
“We already voted on a redistricting plan in the spring,” said State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee. “We used estimated data. We are probably going to have to make at least some small changes. The problem with the latest numbers is in most of the rural areas. The movement is more than we thought. People are moving to the cities. They are moving to Tulsa, but mainly to Oklahoma City.”
Under the preliminary House map, the boundaries in Cherokee County would change little. Most voters would be in Dis. 4, currently represented by Republican Bob Culver, while those in the west would be in Dist. 14, represented by Republican Chris Sneed. Those in the northern part of the county would be part of Dist. 86, represented by Republican David Hardin.
In the old Senate map, parts of Cherokee County were in districts 3, 9 and 18 – represented by Republican Sens. Blake Stephens, Dewayne Pemberton and Kim David, respectively.
Under the new map, those included in Dist. 9 would mostly be unaffected. The new Dist. 3 would include northern and western Cherokee County, as most of Mayes and Wagoner counties. The old Dist. 18 moves west into a densely populated part of Canadian County. David terms out on Jan. 9, 2023, as the new Legislature takes office with the new district borders.
The new Dist. 4 would keep all of Sequoyah County, but drop northern LeFlore County. Included would be all of Adair County, southern Delaware County and southeast Cherokee County.
The proposed redistricting of the area would do away with the old Dist. 3 boundaries. The late Democratic State Sen. Jim Wilson, of Tahlequah, who represented Dist. 3, frequently pointed to its borders as an obvious gerrymander and derisively called it the “toilet bowl” due to its shape.
Democrat lawmakers have aired few complaints in Oklahoma media about the proposed districts, though they would have little in their collective quiver to wield against Republicans. The GOP holds supermajorities of more than 75% in both chambers, and every statewide office.
Pemberton said he did not anticipate any major shifts away from what was approved months ago, but voters near the borders of the proposed districts should check the final map.
“I’ve not seen any new redistricting suggestions,” he said. “During the special session, they will probably present us at that time with proposed changes from the redistricting lines approved last spring. There will be a little bit of movement, but I don’t anticipate any major changes. Any changes they suggest, we will discuss, debate and vote on the week of (Nov.) 15.”
As with most states, the Oklahoma Legislature redraws U.S. House and statehouse districts every 10 years following the Census. The new district boundaries guided by the 2020 Census must be in place in time for the 2022 election season.