While most cities in Oklahoma want a single senator to represent them at the State Capitol, Lawton residents want to retain the two state senators they have and that is reflected in new maps, officials said Wednesday.
That tidbit was among the information gleaned during a series of meetings that helped Oklahoma Senate and House redistricting committees select the plans that will represent district boundaries, if those plans are adopted in May by their full bodies.
Sen. Lonnie Paxton, the Tuttle Republican who chairs the Senate committee, said Senate committee members learned Lawton residents are perfectly happy being split between District 32 Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Lawton, and District 31 Sen. Chris Kidd, R-Waurika.
“They like that,” Paxton said, explaining residents feel that gives them better representation at the state Capitol.
While some cities and counties want to remain in one district, both Lawton and Duncan like the split between two senators, legislators said. That preference is reflected in the new Senate district maps that have been approved by the Senate Select Committee.
Paxton and Rep. Ryan Martinez, chair of the House redistricting committee, said Senate and House committees will present their maps their full committees next week, before taking those recommendations to their full bodies the following week.
“Redistricting is a key aspect of maintaining the integrity of our democracy,” said Rep. Daniel Pae, the Lawton Republican who is co-chair of the House Redistricting Committee. “The House’s transparent, inclusive and accessible process produced a plan ensuring every citizen’s voice has equal weight and representation at the Capitol.”
The maps represent months of work and 22 meetings where House and Senate members were careful to include the public in the process that will guide how they are represented in Oklahoma City for the next decade. Martinez said the process included several “firsts,” including an invitation to accept seven map proposals from the public.
The maps were crafted after taking preliminary population estimates from federal officials (official U.S. Census Bureau counts won’t be available until later this year) that show Oklahoma has a population of 3.9 million. Dividing Oklahoma’s population by 101 House districts shows an “ideal population” of 38,939 for House districts and 81,935 for the 48 Senate districts. State statute allows a population deviation from those counts of 5 percent, and totals easily fall into that category, Martinez and Paxton said.
The House average deviation is 3.77 percent, while the Senate’s is 3.84 percent. Deviations for Lawton districts are well below those averages.
On the House side, the two districts that include most of Lawton have a count of 38,448 and a deviation of 1.26 percent (District 62) and 38,737 and a deviation of 0.52 percent (District 64). District 63, which includes some of south Lawton, has a count of 38,440 for a deviation of 1.28 percent. On the Senate side, the count is 81,170 for District 31 (deviation of minus 0.93 percent) and 82,790 for District 32 (deviation of 1.04 percent).
Martinez said the new House district maps are more compact than the existing boundaries, while also preserving three districts that are predominantly African-American and one that is Hispanic. Where possible, communities of interest were kept in one district. For example, Elk City residents specifically asked that their city not be split between two districts and the new map keeps the city and Beckham County within District 55.
The new lines do not pair any House incumbents, meaning no House member will lose a seat because of new boundaries. Martinez said decisions on whether House members should remain in office “is made by voters, not by redrawing district lines.”
What the maps don’t show is the new configuration of Oklahoma’s five congressional districts, because the U.S. Census Bureau won’t release population counts until summer. When that happens, the House and Senate will coordinate five town hall meetings — one in each congressional district — for residential input before meeting in special session in October to set new congressional district boundaries.
Paxton said there is no chance Oklahoma will be adding another congressional district, saying that, based on existing estimates, the distance between Oklahoma’s population and what it would need for a new district “is considerable.”
Paxton said legislators used American Community Survey estimates from 2015-2019 as the basis for state House and Senate districts because “it is the best data we have to satisfy constitutional requirements,” explaining the Oklahoma Constitution specifies redistricting must be done before the legislative session ends. While the U.S. Census Bureau is charged with providing its count to states by April 1, “they have failed to provide that data,” Paxton said, adding the estimates were the best non-litigation method open to Oklahoma to meet its deadline.
“In the fall, we can come back and make adjustments if we need to,” he said.