Rep. Townley discusses plans for Oklahoma House redistricting process
On Monday evening Rep. Tammy Townley, R-Ardmore joined an online discussion hosted by the League of Women’s Voters of Oklahoma to discuss the redistricting process for the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The redistricting process occurs once a decade after all of the most recent census data is compiled to ensure each of the state’s 101 house districts represent a somewhat equal number of people.
Townley serves as the chair of the South Central Oklahoma Subcommittee for Redistricting and during the discussing she explained the rules in place for the process as well as addressed concerns about the potential for gerrymandering.
Though the final totals from the 2020 census will not be available until April 1, preliminary work has already begun on the redistricting process based off of estimates from July population numbers. Once the final numbers are in, the total population will be divided by 101 to determine how many people will be in each district.
“This is a numbers game first, and that’s why the census is so important,” Townley said. “We have to get our numbers right, and we have to get everything counted correctly so that when we start dividing our population fairly and equitably we know how many (are to be in each district).”
Based off of estimates, Townley said each district will be picking up around 2,000 constituents. While some districts may remain relatively unchanged, others — particularly those in metro areas — will get substantially smaller geographically.
“We already know that we’ve got four districts that are going to have to be redrawn considerably smaller geographically because they’re so populous,” she said. “They’ve got 15,000 too many based off of July population numbers. We’re trying to already start looking at that and mapping that.”
It’s the redrawing process that has caused controversy in some areas in the past because the political party in power could potentially draw the boundaries in a way to favor themselves.
Townley explained some of the rules in place in the State of Oklahoma to avoid that situation. For example, every member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives is sitting on the redistricting committee for their region.
“Every representative is sitting on a committee,” She said. “Republicans, Democrats — if we had independents they would be sitting on it too. Everyone is on a committee. Whatever district you sit on, you’re on that committee. So everyone is getting a voice, and that is an important process in OK.”
Another rule comes from a provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prohibits intentionally splitting areas with large minority populations into multiple districts.
All districts must also be contiguous and cannot contain small pockets in nonadjacent areas. Sometimes the lines dividing districts are based on counties or city limits, but other times they can be physical landmarks such as rivers, roads and railways.
Townley used her own district as an example of the thought process that goes into determining where the lines are."
“One of my lines is a railroad,” she said. “So in my head I’m thinking about what is the easiest way to find a boundary to pick up 2,000 (constituents), and I’m looking for a good physical boundary line.”
Townley said while potential maps of all new district will be drawn up by the house, the public is also invited to submit their own maps of the 101 districts in Oklahoma and can do so online at okhouse.gov. They are also holding town hall meeting across the state to get input from the citizens.
Townley herself will be hosting one of these meetings on Tuesday January 12 at 6 p.m. at the Southern Oklahoma Technology Center, and she invited anyone who is interested in learning more about the redistricting process to attend the meeting.