2017 Tulsa election: Proposition 5: Mayor picks redistricting panel

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The fifth of the seven charter change propositions on the City of Tulsa November 14, 2017, ballot would change the makeup and responsibilities of the Election District Commission, which redraws the City Council district lines after each Federal decennial census. A yes vote on Proposition No. 5 would expand the size of the commission from three members to five, make all of them mayoral appointees, subject to council confirmation, and add contractors and city employees to the category of those ineligible to serve. The five-member commission would include two registered Republicans, two registered Democrats, and one registered independent. The commission's meetings would be subject to the state Open Meetings Act. A sentence added to Article VI, Section 10.2 would direct the commission to follow some specific criteria regarding boundaries, partisan composition, and racial and ethnic demographics.

Here is a direct link to the current text of Tulsa City Charter, Article VI, Section 10.1.

The mark-up below shows the how the text of Article VI, Sections 10.1 and 10.2 would change if Proposition No. 5 is approved, with added text underlined, and deleted text stricken.

SECTION 10.1. - ELECTION DISTRICT COMMISSION.

There is hereby created an Election District Commission which shall consist of five (5) three (3) members. The governing body of the two (2) political parties having the largest number of registered voters within the city as of the date of the preceding general election shall each appoint one (1) member of the Election District Commission. The Mayor shall appoint one (1) member, to be appointed by the Mayor subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council. Of the five (5) said members, two (2) shall be affitliated with the political party having the largest number of registered voters within the city as of the date of the preceding general election, two (2) shall be affiliated with the political party having the second largest number of such voters, and one (l) shall be an independent voter. Said members shall not have changed their political party affiliation within the last year. All members shall be registered voters and residents of the City of Tulsa. No two (2) of the members shall be residents of the same Council district at the time of their appointment. The appointments shall be made and the Election District Commission shall be organized no later than the 31st day of January, 1991, and no later than the 31st day of January 1st day of July, 2021, and no later than the 1st day of July of each tenth year thereafter. In the event the members of the Election District Commission are not appointed within the times herein provided, such appointments shall be made by the Presiding Judge of the District Court of Tulsa County. Persons holding an elected office shall be ineligible for appointment to the Election District Commission. No City of Tulsa employee, contractor or elected official shall be appointed to serve on the Election District Commission. If a vacancy shall occur in the Election District Commission, a qualified successor shall be appointed within twenty (20) days after the date the vacancy occurs as provided for original appointments.

SECTION 10.2. - ADJUSTMENT OF ELECTION DISTRICT BOUNDARIES.

The Election District Commission shall adjust the boundaries of Election Districts each ten (10) years after the completion of the Federal Decennial Census. The Election District Commission shall determine the population of the city and each existing election district according to the preceding Federal Decennial Census and shall prepare a proposed Election District Plan. The Election District Commission shall consider natural and neighborhood boundaries, shall disregard partisan considerations, and shall avoid diluting minority votes. Each district shall consist of contiguous, compact territory and be as nearly equal in population as possible. The district boundary lines shall conform with precinct boundary lines. The Election District Plan shall establish the population and boundaries of each election district. The proposed Election District Plan shall include a map and description of the districts. The Election District Commission shall hold at least one (1) public hearing on the proposed Election District Plan. Notice of the hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the city at least ten (10) days prior to the date of the hearing. All meetings of the Election District Commission shall be open meetings as regulated by the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act, Title 25, Oklahoma Statutes, Section 301 and following.

If you scroll back through council minutes, you'll find alternative, rejected versions that would have allowed the City Auditor to serve or to nominate a member and that would have required members to reside in different quadrants of the city. Instead, the City Council chose a version that allows the mayor to pick all the members.

I will be voting no on Proposition No. 5. Long-time readers will know that fair redistricting has been a passion of mine for decades. In fact, it was the subject of my first published essay, in May 1991, back when condemnation of gerrymandering wasn't fashionable because Democrats were creating the gerrymanders.

The principle of separation of powers, with separate, co-equal institutions responsible for executive and legislative responsibilities, is a safeguard against corruption and tyranny. Giving the mayor the ability to pick all the members of the commission redrawing district lines gives him too much power over the body that is charged with scrutinizing his performance and keeping him in check.

By that measure, the existing system is already broken. In 2011, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr not only had his own appointee to the commission under the charter, but a Bartlett Jr partisan was appointed by the GOP county chairman, giving Bartlett Jr and his Cockroach Caucus allies the ability to severely damage the reelection chances of the councilors he had alienated. Councilor John Eagleton, Bartlett Jr's most eloquent critic, was drawn out of his own District 7. Districts 3, 4, and 5 were redrawn to encompass a large number of new voters who would not have a relationship with the incumbent councilors, but would instead have their opinions formed by big-money campaigns painting them as bickering naysayers.

The new proposal doesn't fix the problem, but instead makes it worse. The council would have to confirm the mayor's appointments to the board under Proposition 5, but it is easy to imagine scenarios where a mayor would join with enough cronies on the council to form a majority. This cabal could fill the Election District Commission with minions who would redraw the lines to create safe seats for the mayor's friends and undermine any councilor who offered skepticism or resistance.

The redistricting problem is already well-constrained by the charter and amenable to an automated or semi-automated solution: You have about 180 precincts, and you have to distribute them into 9 contiguous groups of precincts with similar population. Define a few "core areas" encompassing communities of interest which ought to be included in a single district -- e.g., west of the river, the Money Belt, far north Tulsa -- then start the process by adding single precincts to each of these cores until the population is close to the ideal. Another approach would be to start with existing districts and make the minimal number of reassignments to make the numbers work.

If you must include people in the process, there are ways to create a commission that isn't compromised by self-interest. In 1991, I suggested using unsuccessful candidates to draw a rival redistricting plan; the voters would then decide between that plan and the legislature's plan. Constrained sortition is another approach: Let interested citizens apply to serve, lightly screen them with a test of geographical and numerical comprehension, and then draw nine names out of a hat to form the commission.

Like the election calendar, the redistricting process deserves careful and thorough examination and public debate, not a quick patch that seems

To adapt something I wrote in 2011 in advance of the first Republican-majority redistricting process at the State Capitol: Taking a fair approach to redistricting means preserving the right of voters to fire their representatives. It's a matter of accountability and fairness to the voters; fairness to the minority faction is merely a side effect. Lines ought to be drawn with regard to communities of interest, without regard to incumbent political interest.

Another version that was considered:

There is hereby created an Election District Commission which shall consist of members. The City Auditor ex officio shall be a member; provided, the City Auditor may designate a representative, who shall be an employee of the City, to serve in his or her place shall appoint one (1) member, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council. The Mayor shall appoint the other four (4) members, subject to confirmation by a majority vote of the entire membership of the Council. The Mayor shall appoint one (1) member from each of the four (4) quadrants of the City of Tulsa, said quadrants to be measured from the intersection of East 31st Street extending east- west and South Sheridan Road extending north-south. No more than three (3) members of the Election District Commission shall be affiliated with the same political party. All members shall be registered voters and residents of the City of Tulsa. Each of the Mayor's appointees shall be a resident of the quadrant from which he or she is appointed. No two (2) of the Mayor's appointees shall be residents of the same Council district at the time of their appointment. The appointments shall be made and the Election District Commission shall be organized no later than the 1st day of July, 2021, and no later than the 1st day of July of each tenth year thereafter. In the event the members of the Election District Commission are not appointed within the times herein provided, such appointments shall be made by the Presiding Judge of the District Court of Tulsa County. Except for the City Auditor, no No City of Tulsa employee, contractor or elected official shall be appointed to serve on the Election District Commission. If a vacancy shall occur in the Election District Commission, a qualified successor shall be appointed within twenty (20) days after the date the vacancy occurs as provided for original appointments. "

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 8, 2017 8:18 PM.

2017 Tulsa election: Proposition 4: Election in August was the previous entry in this blog.

2017 Tulsa election: Proposition 6: City employees allowed to campaign is the next entry in this blog.

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