OKLAHOMA CITY — Lawmakers are getting an early start on the often difficult task of redrawing state and congressional legislative boundaries.
The House of Representatives’ Redistricting Steering committee met Wednesday evening at the State Capitol for one of its many scheduled public input sessions. House Speaker-elect Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the meetings, which will be conducted across the state in the coming weeks, are the first steps of the redistricting process. These sessions will explain the state’s role and the importance of the assignment.
“Every 10 years we deal with the issue of redistricting,” Steele said. “And I believe it protects one of the most fundamental aspects of our form of government, and that is one person, one vote.”
Lawmakers are required by law to redraw the state’s congressional lines and its state House and Senate district boundaries immediately after the decennial census. The process has the potential to lead to partisan land grabs as members of both parties could attempt to influence the district and congressional boundaries in ways that benefit their own party. But Steele and the members of the steering committee said they intend to approach the task as objectively as possible.
Colin Swearingen, a House staff member, said the lawmakers also must follow many state and national laws and guidelines. The legislators are instructed to create the legislative boundaries so that they are compact, contiguous and equal in population, among other criteria. The federal Voting Rights Act also makes it illegal to redraw the legislative lines in a way that discriminates against any minority population.
“Redistricting is not an easy task,” Swearingen said. “Legislators must navigate a maze of legal provisions and conflicting case laws when drawing the district lines.”
During the 2000 redistricting, Oklahoma lost one of its six U.S. congressional seats because of a shift in population. State Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond, who is on the eight-member redistricting steering committee, said it is unlikely the state will see a change in the number of congressional seats with the 2010 Census.