Oklahoma Farm Bureau this week hosted Senate and House redistricting committee chairs Sen. Lonnie Paxton and Rep. Ryan Martinez to discuss Oklahoma’s ongoing redistricting process.
Every 10 years, the state Legislature is tasked with redrawing state legislative and congressional district lines following the decennial census. The new boundaries will be used for elections beginning in 2022 through 2030.
Below, read about seven things we learned while visiting with Sen. Paxton and Rep. Martinez.
1. Every legislator is involved in the process
Just like standing legislative committees, the House and the Senate each created redistricting committees to carry out the process of redrawing legislative and congressional district lines. Sen. Paxton was appointed chair of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and Rep. Martinez was appointed chair of the House State and Federal Redistricting Committee by Speaker of the House Charles McCall.
All 101 state representatives serve on the House redistricting committee, organized by geographical area. State senators each have the opportunity to share their input on their respective district and area with the Senate’s redistricting committee.
2. House and Senate are working cooperatively
This year, both chambers of the state Legislature are working cooperatively to carry out the process. Ten years ago, Paxton said the House and Senate used separate software systems to draw district lines which created challenges. Today, the chambers are sharing information collected from town halls and are using the same software.
“Everything we’re doing is done as a team,” Paxton said. “It’s been a very collaborative effort, so it increases our transparency and increases the ability for us to work to make the whole process end in a way that’s going to be better for the entire state.”
3. Delays from federal government will push deadline
The state Legislature was scheduled to receive the final 2020 Census data for redistricting in January, but now are not expected to receive final data until September because of federal government delays. However, the Oklahoma Constitution requires legislators to complete the redistricting process within 90 legislative days after the convening of the first regular legislative session following each decennial census.
The delay has forced the state Legislature to proceed using the U.S. Census Bureau estimated data to draw legislative districts. They will finish state legislative districts during the current legislative session and then will work on the state’s congressional districts in a special legislative session once the final data is delivered this fall.
“(The estimated data is) accurate,” Martinez said. “It’s the most updated data that we have, so we’re going to move forward and draw lines with that data. And I feel very confident in that process.”
If the final 2020 Census data causes the new districts to have a greater variance than the 2.5% that the state Legislature’s redistricting rules require, legislators will make adjustments in the special session this fall.
“When we get the final data in later this fall, we’ll use that to go back in, look and see if we’re still within our variances of where we need to be,” Paxton said. “(The process) will be over probably sometime later this fall because of the delays from the federal government. There’s nothing we can do about that, so we’re going to do what our constitution says and deal with the data that we have.”
4. Oklahomans are encouraged to participate
Both Paxton and Martinez repeatedly emphasized the goal of including all Oklahomans in the redistricting process. The legislators and their committees spent the last several months gathering input from constituents at 20 town halls held in person and virtually cross the state.
“This process is the people of Oklahoma’s process,” Martinez said. “These districts belong to the people of Oklahoma.”
Oklahomans who are interested in providing input in the process are encouraged to submit a map or contact their state representative and state senator.
“Talk to your local senator, your local house rep,” Paxton said. “That’s where you can get those individual ideas for your individual district and your area.”
5. New districts are approved like legislation
Once the lines are drawn, the new districts must pass through the House and Senate redistricting committees just like a piece of legislation. After committee, the districts are required to be passed off the House and Senate floors and signed by the governor.
“So we all have to agree,” Paxton said.
6. Rural districts will see changes
During the discussion, Paxton and Martinez acknowledged population shifts over the last 10 years could cause some currently rural districts to include more suburban areas of Oklahoma.
“That rural representation question is a big question, but it is simply a numbers game as far as where these districts end up,” Paxton said. “Each district has to have relatively that same number of people, and we have to keep finding more population to fill those districts that have either stagnated or have actually lost population over the last 10 years.”
7. The state Legislature still values rural Oklahoma
Though rural districts may see some change, Martinez said he believes the state Legislature still understands the value of rural Oklahoma.
“It’s not all doom and gloom,” Martinez said. “I do think that people in the Legislature are very much aware of the rural heritage of Oklahoma, and nobody wants to get rid of that. I get the rural heritage and the culture and the roots of our state, and that plays a very important role in Oklahoma regardless of where you’re from or where you represent.”