Pittman encourages voters, leaders to anticipates reality of 2020 redistricting

June 3, 2011

To the Editor

The history of the U.S. Census is tied to voting rights and to the allocation of federal funding. The first census, conducted in 1790, only recorded the names of heads of households. Slaves were counted in the 1850 and 1860 censuses, but ceased to be a factor after the emancipation proclamation ended slavery. Women and minority groups gained voting rights over time and that impacted the importance of tracking minority communities and gender.

The U.S. Census is used to draw U.S. House and state legislative districts. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created guidelines for this process to protect minority voting blocs. A U.S. Supreme Court decision required districts to have equal populations.

During this legislative session, we used Census data to redraw Oklahoma’s Congressional and state legislative districts. Our state grew by 8.7 percent over the past decade to 3,751,351, allowing Oklahoma to keep its five Congressional seats. Steve Barker, manager of the Oklahoma Data center, reported the state’s participation as 68 percent compared to the national participation rate of 74 percent.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives hired special staff members to oversee the appropriate implementation of the redistricting process this year. I was proud to be one of two African-Americans and one of four women chosen for the committee that created the redistricting plan. Such representation in the process is unprecedented. With this improvement in representation and the help of the professional redistricting staff, we were able to draw district lines in a way that left most districts relatively unchanged. The most notable exception was in Western Oklahoma, where a large population shift in Canadian County forced lawmakers to make more dramatic shifts in district lines.

The Oklahoma Senate also followed federal guidelines. They too had a dramatic change in Western Oklahoma. They also dramatically changed Oklahoma City and Tulsa districts but generally were able to maintain the core part of districts. The one criticism they did receive was that they did not consider the input of all senators in the same way that House members were consulted.

In all, I would commend the way in which the redistricting process was conducted. In the past, communities had to sue because of the way it was handled and I think this time around we have avoided that scenario. I think the presence of African-American members on the House committee was particularly helpful in protecting the minority districts of Oklahoma.

This leads me to the question of who will represent African-Americans in a decade, when we again redraw district lines. I ask this question because the last of the current black caucus members will be termed two years before that process begins.

I would urge African-American communities to consider who they will elect as the new members of the Legislature. We must ensure that the institutional knowledge of our current members are passed on to the new leaders. Who will replace state Sens. Constance N. Johnson and Judy McIntyre? What about state Reps. T.W. Shannon, Mike Shelton, Jabar Shumate and myself? Who will ensure we receive adequate representation in the next redistricting process?

It is vital that we pay close attention to the U.S. Census and redistricting process. Money and voting rights are tied to the records of the population; it is essential we fill out those forms. Civic involvement on the part of African-American communities will also be vital in the future. I hope to see numerous leaders step up in the years to come.

I would also urge Oklahomans to pay attention to their county commissioner districts, as they will be redrawn this fall. School districts will be redrawn by late December. There may even be an attempt to redraw judicial districts, although there is no requirement that they be redrawn.


Anastasia Pittman
Editor’s note: State Rep. Anastasia A. Pittman, an Oklahoma City Democrat, represents House District 99.
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