Oklahoma Politics: January 2011 Archives

Congratulations to Holly Richardson, aka Holly on the Hill, a conservative Utah political blogger, mom of 20, and political activist who was named by a special Republican convention to fill an unexpected vacancy in the Utah House of Representatives.

The vacancy occurred because the recently re-elected incumbent representative discovered, while using an online "find your legislator" address-lookup tool, that his state rep was someone other than himself.

State Rep. Craig Frank represented the district since 2003. In 2009 he planned to move from Pleasant Grove to Cedar Hills. County maps then showed that the new location was within the 57th. So he moved.

Early this month, however, he was fiddling with the House's new website, which has a useful feature. You can type in your address, and it tells you what district you live in. Frank did so, and up popped ... a picture of Rep. John Dougall. Uh-oh. Dougall represents House District 27.

Inquiries indicated that old county maps didn't jibe with the official state map of district boundaries. Frank apparently lived outside his district. To his credit, he immediately reported this. His seat was declared vacant.

The source of the problem: The district boundaries were defined in terms of city limits, which changed about the time the redistricting law was passed.

The law's text says the legislative boundary is the Cedar Hills city limit; but the accompanying map draws the boundary along outdated borders from before the time Frank's property was annexed, thus putting his property outside Cedar Hills.

So does "city limit" refer to the actual city boundary, or to the line labeled "city limit" on the map? One could argue either way. The first option puts Frank in District 57; the second seemingly puts him in the 27th.

Oklahoma redistricting is not likely to run afoul of the same problem, as redistricting legislation makes reference to census block numbers, which are defined prior to the decennial census by the U. S. Census Bureau and do not change.

But even Oklahoma's method opens the door to inconsistencies, gaps, and omissions, particularly as the legislative form of the redistricting bills doesn't lend itself to visualization.

That's why it's important, during the redistricting process, for legislators not only to publish the draft redistricting bills and their long lists of census block numbers, but also to publish the in-progress work product, in the form of a table with a record for each census block showing its current district and assigned district under the proposed plan. Members of the public with GIS and database skills will be able to link this information with Census Bureau population numbers and census block geography and detect problems so that they can be corrected before boundaries are set in stone.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives will hold a session of its "Redistricting Listening Tour" in the Career Services Center auditorium of Tulsa Technology Center's Lemley Campus, 3420 S. Memorial, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, at 7 p.m.

I hope to attend. Redistricting is a favorite topic -- it combines maps, math, and politics -- and it deals with fairness in representative government. My first published guest opinion was a May 31, 1991, Tulsa Tribune "Point of View" piece on redistricting: "Those Districts Belong to Us."

Although the population has shifted and the lines have been redrawn once in the subsequent score of years, the problem I described and the principles that should guide redistricting still hold true. I hope the first Oklahoma redistricting with my fellow Republicans fully in control will be the epitome of fairness and common sense. If Republicans could win a supermajority of seats in both houses despite the 2001 district lines drawn by Democrats to preserve their own power, the GOP can certainly hold the legislature with fairly drawn districts that reflect communities of interest rather than incumbent self-interest.

While I may not be able to persuade my friends in the legislature to draw fair lines, I hope at least that I can persuade the House and Senate to use common lines, as much as possible, to avoid some of the absurdities that emerged from the 2001 redistricting.

Meet Precinct 184.


This uninhabited precinct, home of Marshall Brewing Company (which didn't exist when the lines were drawn), is bounded by 6th and 7th Streets, Utica and Wheeling Avenues. In 2000, the Census Bureau defined it as tract 23, blocks 1064 (west of the tracks) and 1047 (east of the tracks).

It exists as a separate precinct because it is the only area that is in both Senate District 11 and House District 72. North of 6th St. is in SD 11 and HD 73. East of Wheeling and south of 7th is SD 33 and HD 72. West of Utica is SD 11 and HD 66.

State law (26 O.S. 3-116 A) requires that "The boundary line of any precinct shall not cross the boundary line of any district court judicial district electoral division or any congressional, legislative or county commissioner district." Had this block been included in the same precinct as one of its neighbors, this law would have been violated. Without this law, you might have voters in a single precinct voting in two different House or Senate districts, sending two different ballot versions into the same ballot scanner.

The lack of collaboration between House and Senate on boundaries forced the Tulsa County Election Board to create this unnecessary precinct and at least four others, two of which are uninhabited.

Precinct 187 (Tulsa County 2000 census tract 46, block 1994) is a triangle bounded by the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-244 between the west bank and the centerline of the Arkansas River. Formerly a part of precinct 801, it is the only sliver of land (sand, more truthfully) in both HD 66 and SD 37.

Precinct 185 is Tulsa County 2000 census tract 76.10, block 1015, bounded by Riverside Drive, the east bank of the Arkansas River, Joe Creek, and a bike path (roughly the continuation of Trenton Ave.) It is the only census block in both SD 37 and HD 69.

Precincts 179 and 180, near 76th St between Yale and Sheridan, have a few voters each. They exist because the House chose the east-west center line of the section as a boundary between HD 67 and HD 79, while the Senate chose a series of streets that cut across the square mile -- 76th St, Erie Ave, and 77th St -- to divide SD 25 from SD 39.

There very nearly were more microprecincts. House and Senate mapmakers differed over whether the westbound or the eastbound lanes of the Broken Arrow expressway between Harvard and Pittsburg should form a district boundary. But it appears that this narrow strip of land, tract 39, block 4001, in HD 71 and SD 33, was attached to precinct 71, just to the west.

Mercifully, Oklahoma law allows the creation of "subprecincts" in such cases. A subprecinct can share precinct judges and a polling place with a neighboring precinct, but it still must have its own ballot box. Depending on which races are contested, it may require its own ballot to cover its unique combination of districts.

How did this happen? Each chamber of the legislature worked separately on its own plan, without reference to the Other Body, defining districts in terms of U. S. Census Bureau census blocks, rather than in terms of boundary lines. Wherever there's a street, a stream, a railroad, or a political boundary, there are separate census blocks on either side. The Census Bureau provides a database with population counts by census blocks, and each house divvies up counties, census tracts, and census blocks in order to produce contiguous districts of roughly equal population.

Rather than repeat the same folly, I urge our legislature to use common boundaries to define House, Senate, and Congressional districts. Since the federal courts tossed aside our constitutional provisions on legislative apportionment back in 1964, the number of legislators in each house has been defined by statute.

So let's add two senators to make 50, subtract one rep to make 100. Define 100 State House districts. Combine them in pairs to make 50 Senate districts. Combine 10 Senate districts into each of our five Congressional districts. Or start with Congressional districts and divide them into 10 Senate districts each, and each Senate district into two House districts.

Either way, it would make it easier for constituents to know who their legislators are, would make it harder to use district boundaries to protect incumbents, and would make it easier for county election boards to draw precinct boundaries.


2000 Census maps of Tulsa County, showing census tracts and blocks

Tulsa County Election Board maps of precincts and districts.

Title 14, Congressional and Legislative Districts. For some reason, you can find the detailed definition of 2001 Senate districts here, but not House districts, so here is the rich-text format (Word-compatible) version of HB 1515, the 2001 Oklahoma House redistricting bill as signed by the governor.

Oklahoma 2nd District Congressman Dan Boren proved me wrong.

Rather than vote a fourth time for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House (he voted for her in 2005, 2007, and 2009), the Democrat joined 10 colleagues in voting for North Carolina Democrat Heath Shuler for speaker.

Another eight Democrats also voted for someone other than Pelosi: Two of her fellow California Democrats, Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza, voted for each other, John Lewis (D-GA) received two votes. Minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Jim Cooper (D-TN) each received one vote. One Democrat (Bishop of GA) voted present, and one (DeFazio of OR) wasn't even there.

All but one Republican voted for the new speaker, John Boehner. The lone holdout: John Boehner. (Often, speaker candidates abstain from the vote, although Pelosi never has.)

1997 appears to be the last time there were a significant number of dissenters -- 9 center-left Republicans opted not to vote for a second term for Newt Gingrich.

It will be interesting to see if Boren pays any price within his caucus. While the vote for speaker is normally what the British would call a three-line whip -- dissent risks expulsion from the party caucus -- Pelosi had no chance to win. Allowing Boren to vote against Pelosi takes a way a talking point from his 2012 opponent, improving Boren's odds of re-election, so that he can vote for a far-left speaker in 2013, when his vote may matter.

When my daughter and I went door-to-door in Muskogee for Charles Thompson, Boren's 2010 opponent, Boren's previous votes for Pelosi were a real door-opener; it gave us an instant rapport with voters. Had Thompson raised enough money early enough to get that message to most 2nd District voters, Boren's political career might be over.

(Thanks to Steven Roemerman for his tweet today wondering if "this @Batesline post had anything to do with [Boren's] vote today.")

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma Politics category from January 2011.

Oklahoma Politics: December 2010 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma Politics: February 2011 is the next archive.

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