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Editorial: Redistricting plan for Congressional District 5 protects partisanship, not fair representation
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Editorial: Redistricting plan for Congressional District 5 protects partisanship, not fair representation

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Redistricting Oklahoma (copy)

Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, chair of the House Redistricting Committee, answers a question at a news conference announcing new state House and Senate districts. Republican leaders in the Oklahoma House and Senate released new congressional district maps on Monday that show major changes to the competitive 5th Congressional District that Democrats narrowly won in 2018.

A proposed redrawing of the state’s congressional districts has been billed as keeping equal representation intact, but it looks more like a reaction to the 2018 midterm elections.

Congressional District 5, centered on the Oklahoma City metro area, saw the biggest changes, particularly in Oklahoma’s most populous county. Oklahoma County used to be mostly within District 5.

But under a proposal by a legislative redistricting committee, it will be sliced up between three congressional districts.

The move puts sections of urban south Oklahoma County into District 3; a portion of south Oklahoma City is already in District 4. District 5 gains pieces of mostly suburban and rural Logan and Canadian counties and adds Lincoln County to balance out population numbers.

This is significant because District 5 was the scene of an election upset in 2018, when Democrat Kendra Horn defeated incumbent GOP Congressman Steve Russell. Horn’s tenure was short, as she was narrowly defeated by Republican Stephanie Bice two years later.

While District 5 is back in Republican hands, its demographic shifts have turned it into the state’s only politically purple district — closer to an even split of liberal and conservative politics. That’s makes for a competitive district.

The trend will be blunted should the proposed redistricting plan stand.

Proponents say the new lines group similar communities together. But that logic fails when considering where those south Oklahoma County voters would go.

Can we say that voters in south Oklahoma City have much in common with those in Boise City or Blackwell? Will their concerns, as well as those of urban voters remaining in District 5, be diluted by the interests of Oklahoma’s sprawling suburban and rural areas?

Rather than acknowledge how much the Oklahoma City metro area has changed, new lines have been drawn to politically minimize those shifts and protect the current District 5 incumbent.

One of redistricting’s main purposes is to ensure all constituencies get fair representation. In reality, Oklahoma’s redistricting process is aimed at maintaining a status quo.

This boils down to who is redrawing the districts. In Oklahoma, it’s state lawmakers.

The Oklahoma Legislature is overwhelmingly Republican. It’s not a far leap to believe that partisan concerns played a role. The same was true when Democrats held legislative majorities.

Republicans say party registration was not included in the data used to draw the new district. That makes the situation stranger.

If a person were looking at numbers, District 5 would be more compact, not geographically larger. It doesn’t take an expert to know that someone in Piedmont is more likely to vote Republican than someone in southwest Oklahoma City.

Fairness, and not bad memories of the 2018 election, ought to guide this process, with the idea that voters aren’t disenfranchised.


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