Maps proposed by the Oklahoma Legislature make clear the need to relieve lawmakers of their decennial redistricting duties and create a citizen-led independent commission that can draw something more representative of the state and is less partisan.
Metrics calculated by Princeton Gerrymandering Project show the proposed congressional map ensures there would no competitive districts in Oklahoma for years. The same holds true for proposed redistricting of Oklahoma Senate maps and all but eight seats in Oklahoma House of Representatives.
The project, undertaken by an interdisciplinary team at Princeton University, supports state- and federal-level reforms that would eliminate partisan gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the validity of the team's work, which includes "mathematical tests that rigorously diagnose unequal opportunity and unfair outcomes in district maps."
Oklahoma lawmakers deserve credit for making an effort to include the public in the redistricting process, conducting virtual hearings and a number of town halls at locations across the state. Public input included opportunities to submit maps, which included access to high-tech mapping tools.
This technology, which allows users to slice and dice certain demographics with pinpoint precision, was unavailable to most people when redistricting was carried out a decade ago. There were few who understood the power of those tools, but one man whose knowledge of them helped him achieve "near-mythic status in the Republican Party" was hired to help lawmakers redraw the legislative and congressional maps adopted after the 2010 Census.
The involvement and influence of Thomas B. Hofeller on redistricting in Oklahoma were revealed in computer files made public by his daughter after his death few years ago. Muskogee County Democratic Party Treasurer Jimmy W. Haley obtained a copy of those files and learned Hofeller and his company were hired to help Republican lawmakers redraw Oklahoma's legislative and congressional maps — that included carving the late state Sen. Jim Wilson out of his district and the Oklahoma Legislature.
Hofeller's files played prominent roles in recent court cases. He apparently was involved in the effort to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, which was motivated by his study in 2015 that found adding the question could help Republicans draw even more extreme gerrymandered maps.
The League of Women Voters notes the proposed redistricting of Oklahoma's five congressional districts would cut out more than half of the Hispanic population from the 5th District and moved to the 3rd District. The proposed map would divide the Hispanic population — an urban community in Oklahoma County, which constitutes racial gerrymandering and a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
A functioning democracy relies on free and fair elections; that begins with legislative and congressional districts that allow for competitive elections. The electorate will lose faith in a system that offers no choice, and divisions will become even wider.