Oklahoma congressional redistricting -- only minor tweaks

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Legislative redistricting is still in progress, and congressional redistricting isn't due until next year, but the Oklahoma House already has a plan for altering the congressional lines to rebalance population to fit the 2010 census -- HB 1527. Only a handful of precincts will change hands. This is the least radical redistricting in my lifetime, and it's much less contentious than 10 years ago, when Oklahoma lost a seat, and congressional redistricting became a game of musical chairs. (Wes Watkins, already stepping down, lost that game.)

To avoid a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act, the lines are drawn so that each congressional district has exactly the same population, plus or minus 1 person. The same thing was done in 2000. That level of precision seems ridiculous, given that between the date of the census snapshot (April 1, 2010) and the drawing of the lines a year later, the actual numbers have already changed. Allowing slightly more deviation would allow congressional districts to follow county boundaries, instead of having to be tweaked one block at a time, and some states are allowed to do that, but Oklahoma is not allowed.

As it is, only four counties will be split, and those same four counties were split in 2000: Creek (mostly 3 and a bit of 1), Rogers (mostly 2 and a bit of 1), Oklahoma (mostly 5 and a bit of 4), and Canadian (mostly 3 and a bit of 4). (The links lead to detailed maps in PDF format.)

The changes shouldn't have any effect on partisan balance, which might be considered a missed opportunity. Republicans could have easily drawn the lines to hurt Dan Boren's reelection chances.

As it is, Tulsa will continue to have two congressmen. And two of Oklahoma's congressmen will each represent two military bases -- thus District 4's incursion into Oklahoma County to lasso Tinker AFB -- and that's supposed to help with any future base realignments.

MORE: I had a question via email about my statement that Tulsa will continue to have two congressmen. The City of Tulsa is mainly in Tulsa County (385,613 people, 176.37 sq. mi.), but it extends into Osage (6,136 people, 10.80 sq. mi.), Wagoner (157 people, 13.68 sq. mi.), and Rogers (0 people, 0.13 sq. mi.) Counties as well. (The Rogers County portion is only a narrow fenceline, extending to the Tulsa Port of Catoosa.) Frank Lucas represents all of Osage County, including the 1.5% of Tulsa's population that lives there. The Osage County section of Tulsa includes Gilcrease Hills, Tulsa Country Club, and Country Club Gardens. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the Osage County part of Tulsa was included in the 1st District. It might have been nice had the Legislature moved Tulsa's chunk of Osage County from CD 3 into CD 1 in exchange for the Creek County section of CD 1.

One more thing: The Legislature's early resolution of congressional district boundaries and the minimal changes they made are both huge helps to county election boards. After the 2000 census, the battle between Gov. Keating, a Republican, and the Democrat-controlled legislature over redistricting led to court, delaying official adoption of a plan until June 26, 2002, a mere 12 days before the filing period. County election boards had only two months to redraw precinct boundaries and then sort the state's voters into the new precincts. (By state law, a precinct can't be split by congressional, legislative, or county commission district boundaries.)

This time around, county election boards will have a full year. Maybe the Tulsa County Election Board can use some of that time to match precinct boundaries to city limits and school district boundaries. (I'm thinking in particular of the chunks of west Tulsa in precincts 801 and 802, and a couple of east Tulsa precincts that straddle the Tulsa-BA limit.) Cleanly drawn boundaries prevent confusion at the polling place.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 18, 2011 9:43 PM.

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