Oklahoma House redistricting plan on track despite federal delays
Every ten years all of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate districts are redrawn following the results of the United States Census. Typically the official census results are released in April, so state law requires the legislature to have all the districts redrawn and in place by the end of May. Due to delays from the federal government, the official 2020 Census results will not be available until September, but the state legislature has already drawn up a proposed new map based on preliminary figures. They will be voting on this new map in the coming days with the provision that official federal numbers could make some alterations.
Rep. Tammy Townley (R-Ardmore), serves as the chair of the South Central Oklahoma Subcommittee on Redistricting explained the reason for the federal delays.
“Because of COVID, President Trump extended the deadline on the census,” Townley said. “After that deadline got extended some of the states that were going to lose congressional seats filed federal lawsuits that claimed the extension skewed the numbers, so everything got put on hold until those lawsuits got settled. Those lawsuits have since been settled, but they’re not releasing the final numbers until September.”
Townley said the preliminary figures have given the legislature a good idea about the way the population has grown in Oklahoma, and the proposed map of new district lines has already passed committee in the state house.
“We’re probably going to vote on it this coming week, but we can’t set it in stone until the federal numbers are in,” she said. “Basically we’re passing it with the provision that the federal numbers could change, but we think we’re very close.”
Townley said redistricting can be a bit tricky because changing the lines of one district creates a domino effect that spills over into all the other districts in the state. In an effort to prevent gerrymandering, rules are in place that require all districts to be contiguous with no small pockets in nonadjacent areas. Lines dividing the districts can be based on county lines or physical landmarks such as rivers, roads or railways.
Townley went over some of the changes coming to the boundaries coming to her own district, District 48.
“I had to gain 2,300 people, so I picked up a few voters just south of Ardmore and a little bit north of Lone Grove,” Townley said. “I also picked up Elmore City and more in Garvin County. I ended up losing Wilson, and Speaker McCall needed to pick up more people so he took my area from Murray County which pushed me into Garvin County. It’s the domino effect that’s pushed me a bit up and over.”
The state Legislature will also be drawing up the district lines for the federal representatives, but those changes will not be made until the official 2020 Census numbers are in. Townley said because Oklahoma is neither losing nor gaining a seat in the House of Representatives, those districts are not likely to see many significant changes.
Once all the new district maps are complete, they will go into effect in 2022.