Oklahoma’s congressional lines are drawn by the state legislature and subject to a gubernatorial veto. The legislature is also responsible for drawing state level legislative lines, but if they fail to pass a plan the responsibility passes to a seven- member backup commission.
Community of Interest Story
“This process was the most transparent it’s ever been in state history because of advocacy, but the proof is in the pudding.” – Andy Moore, Let’s Fix This
Multiple subjects interviewed spoke to the splitting of Latinx communities in Oklahoma City in the state congressional maps. There was a significant gap in civic engagement and outreach to the Latinx community, and the community ended up getting split in the congressional plan despite extensive organizing.
Overall State Grade: C+
Most transparent process ever, but limitations still existed: The public was invited to submit complete maps and the state legislature held redistricting town halls throughout the state, which they had never done before. Redistricting meetings were held at different locations across the state with opportunities for public comment, but the public comment period was short and not broadcast widely. Additionally, partial or incomplete maps were not accepted, and the only opportunity to submit community of interest-level information was to individual legislators.
No opportunity to respond to draft maps: Although there were opportunities to submit draft maps and public comments, there was no opportunity for the public to comment on draft maps.
Limited town halls: Opportunities for public input were limited to a handful of town halls, with two virtual- only town halls and several others that were livestreamed but only available for comment in person. The website was difficult to manage, and there was no opportunity to submit comments virtually.
State legislature exempt from open records requests: One advocate stated this was particularly difficult and that the legislature would use procedural specifics to avoid transparency.
Local Grade: C
In Oklahoma, each county has only three county commissioners, who each wield significant power at the county level. The state government offered to use resources to draw Board of Commissioners districts for all counties – but because state government is exempt from open records requests and county and local level governments are not, this essentially moved local redistricting behind a curtain and limited public input. Results varied across the state, but this was a major problem with transparency across the board.
- Failed petition for an independent commission still had an impact: Although a petition for an independent redistricting commission failed due to COVID-19 difficulties and political issues, advocates believe this attempt did draw attention to redistricting and resulted in the legislature deciding to have public meetings about redistricting.
- Advocacy worked and achieved more transparency and public input: Advocacy efforts in the past few years have drawn attention to redistricting in Oklahoma, and there was a marked increase in participation, interest, and transparency in the process.
- Larger narrative fails with a partisanship and partisan lens: One advocate stated that the media often took a partisan lens in covering Oklahoma redistricting, which they believe hurt organizing efforts by making it seem like a partisan horse-trading game instead of an issue of public interest and accountability for people across parties.
- Advocacy must start earlier: Advocates spoke of the need to get organizing work started years before the redistricting process, especially if working for a ballot initiative or any reforms.
- More education is needed going forward: Most people do not know about redistricting. It is critically important to create a larger culture of civic engagement and tie redistricting to other, more familiar topics for people.
- Watch for small ways the legislature subverts the process: Advocates spoke to how the legislature subverted an open process and forced organizers to participate on their terms – through small rules that allowed for exemptions to open records requests and open meeting and only allowed input in specific ways (through Dave’s Redistricting App, by email, etc).
- Transparency is not enough: Oklahoma had the most transparent process in its history, but as Andy Moore from Let’s Fix This said, “the proof is in the pudding.” Transparency and significant public input do not automatically translate into wins and outcomes that protect communities, especially communities of color.