More than half a million Oklahomans will be living in a different Congressional district by the end of this month, and most don’t even know it.
This week the Oklahoma legislature will quietly convene for a brief special session in order to adopt a handful of bills that will redraw all five of the state’s Congressional as well as the 149 state legislative districts. The process—called “redistricting”—is governed by the U.S. Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, and a set of rules written and approved by the legislature itself last year.
Oklahoma is one of a dwindling number of states where politicians are still allowed to draw their own districts and, therefore, are also able to hand-pick which voters they want in their district... and which voters they don’t. We call that behavior “gerrymandering;” it remains one of the most undemocratic practices in American politics and is universally panned by voters.
Despite legislative leaders’ claims to the contrary, gerrymandering is alive and well in Oklahoma, and can be seen most evidently in the recently proposed Congressional map for our state, which the legislature will be voting on this week. Under the politicians’ plan, the 5th district spans six counties instead of just one. In exchange, it divides Oklahoma County down the middle, splitting it between three different Congressional districts. People who can see the State Capitol from their front porch will be lumped in with people who can see Texas, New Mexico and Kansas, and residents of Midwest City will be joined with readers of Lawton’s Southwest Ledger. In short, these districts don’t make sense.
While there is obviously a partisan bias in how the proposed map was drawn, perhaps the most appalling aspect of the CD5 gerrymander is that it is clearly designed to diminish the voice of the Hispanic/Latino community in Congressional elections. According to the 2020 Census data, there are 153,498 Hispanic residents in Oklahoma County, nearly all of whom currently live (and vote) in CD5. Under the legislature’s proposed map, more than half (56%) of the Hispanic population from Oklahoma County will be drawn into CD3, which is the large, heavily rural Congressional district that covers northern and western Oklahoma, all the way out to the panhandle.
The only people who approve of (and benefit from) the proposed Congressional map are politicians. When politicians are allowed to draw their own districts, they draw them to ensure they get reelected, and when their reelection is a sure-thing, it means they aren’t truly accountable to voters. When politicians intentionally cut out an entire community, it’s because that community represents a threat to their power. We must remember that in a democratic republic, power is supposed to rest with the voters—not with politicians.
Now is the time for Oklahoma voters to use their power. The map isn’t approved just yet—we still have time to speak up for those voices who are being silenced and speak out against ridiculous gerrymandering.