It’s finally over — well mostly.
After months of work, delays and debate, Oklahoma’s Legislature has passed new redistricting maps for the state’s congressional and legislative boundaries.
The plans for the congressional, state House and state Senate maps now will go to Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is widely expected to sign off on all three proposals. The plans will take effect for the 2022 election cycle and will stay in effect until the next redistricting round begins again in 2030.
There was strong Democratic opposition to the maps, specifically how it moves thousands of Hispanic voters from the competitive Fifth Congressional District (currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice) to the Third Congressional District (held by U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas).
You can read more about that in this piece that Lionel Ramos and I worked on last week (or listen to us talk about it on Oklahoma Watch’s Long Story, Short podcast. But the net political effect of the move is that the 5th Congressional District will become less competitive (with Republicans extending their edge there) while the other four congressional districts remain safe GOP seats.
Given that many Democrats have accused Republicans of gerrymandering the maps, several readers have asked if Democrats or others can challenge the proposals in court.
The answer is yes, but their chances of overturning the maps at this stage are pretty remote.
Courts have been reluctant to override maps based on politics alone. Unless the maps raise constitutional concerns or run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act, gerrymandering along political lines is not explicitly illegal.
And in 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan redistricting is a political question that is not reviewable by federal courts, removing one avenue for opponents to challenge the maps.
State courts have also been hesitant to overturn maps.
During the last redistricting round, for example, former state Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Wilson, sued former Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders shortly after the 2011 Senate Redistricting Act was passed and signed into law. He argued the GOP-controlled Senate intentionally drew boundaries to benefit the Republican Party.
The state Supreme Court rejected Wilson’s lawsuit, saying he didn’t provide “discernible and manageable standards” to prove political gerrymandering had occurred.
But what remains to be seen is whether Oklahoma will stick to its redistricting process or move an independent redistricting panel after the 2030 Census.
Democrats filed legislation during the special session that ended Friday to create a citizen-led redistricting panel. But given GOP opposition to this proposal, any effort to create a state question to change Oklahoma’s redistricting rules is likely to go through the citizen ballot initiative process.
A statewide group, People Not Politicians, tried to get such a question on the ballot last year, but came up short. In a release sent Friday, the group said it is “reviewing all options for ensuring that voters are properly and fairly represented.”
What do you think? Should Oklahoma change its redistricting process for the next redistricting round? Or should it be kept in the Legislature’s purview? Send any of your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @tbrownokc and we might use it in a future story.
The Top Story
Jubilation, Relief and Frustration: Oklahoma Politicians, Others React to Julius Jones Commutation
Messages of relief and praise poured in from both Republicans and Democrats after Gov. Kevin Stitt announced he is commuting Julius Jones previous death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jones, who was convicted of murdering Edmond businessman Paul Howell in 1999, was scheduled to be executed at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. He maintains his innocence. The Howell family argued the evidence is overwhelming and Jones’ execution should be carried out.
The governor’s executive order, which was announced at 12:10 p.m., commutes Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility for parole, on the condition that “he shall never again be eligible to apply for, be considered for, or receive any additional commutation, pardon, or parole.” [Read More]
Bernice King, the activist and daughter of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was among those who tweeted words of thanks and relief after Gov. Kevin Stitt commuted Julius Jones’ death sentence.
Like many others, King signaled that this will not be the end of the Jones saga. In addition to fighting for Jones’ ability to seek parole or pardon — something the governor’s office has said is no longer possible — look for activists in and outside of Oklahoma to make a push to abolish the death penalty.
But given public polling that shows the death penalty still has a good deal of support, they likely will face an uphill climb.
What I’m Reading This Week
- The Oklahoma State Department of Health granted a local public relations and marketing firm a $3 million contract to help get the word out about the COVID-19 pandemic response. [StateImpact Oklahoma]
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began an on-site investigation of the Public Health Lab on Sept. 21 following months of turmoil after the lab was relocated from Oklahoma City to Stillwater. [The Frontier]
- Early this month the Oklahoma State Department of Health decided to stop publishing a weekly report of every nursing home, assisted living facility, veteran center and long-term care facilities that had at least one COVID-19 infection among its residents or staff since the pandemic began. But feedback forced the agency to reconsider its decision. [Oklahoma Watch]
- A dispute between Oklahoma’s governor and the Pentagon over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is setting up the first critical test of the military’s authority to require National Guard troops to get the shot and laying the groundwork for potential protests from other states. [The Associated Press]
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