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COVID-19 halts redistricting reform petition

Oklahoma Capitol

On July 14, the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office filed paperwork officially withdrawing proposed State Question 810 from the signature collection process.

People Not Politicians, the organization behind SQ 810, held their first town hall discussion on November 4, 2019 at the Stillwater Public Library. The petition sought to establish an independent commission to handle legislative redistricting. Ordinarily, the process of redrawing legislative districts is the responsibility of the legislators themselves.

After successfully overcoming multiple legal challenges, the campaign has now come to a voluntary close. Despite the setback, proponents of the petition say they will continue to push for changes to Oklahoma’s legislative redistricting process.

Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians, said the choice to withdraw the petition was the result of several factors, including the ongoing COVID-19 emergency.

That’s effectively the reason we decided to withdraw,” Moore said.

He said the coalition behind the proposed state question had been allowed to collect signatures since July 3, but didn’t feel they could complete all the requirements in time to appear on the ballot before the redistricting process began in 2021.

Moore said the petition process had to be completely finished by the ballot-printing deadline of Aug. 24. That means the signatures would have to be collected, turned in, counted, and validated by that time, in addition to overcoming any subsequent legal challenges, he said.

That’s less than two months. And at the same time, you know, cases are spiking, it’s clearly not the right environment to be out there trying to ask people to sign a petition,” Moore said.

In addition to the other challenges posed by the pandemic, Moore said the Secretary of State’s Office was a potential hurdle to the petition’s advancement.

“After seeing what happened with State Question 805, and how they had to get a court order just to turn in their signatures, I suspected that the Secretary of State’s office was not open in the normal sense,” Moore said.

After initially having difficulty contacting the Secretary of State’s office about the withdrawal by phone, Moore said the office responded to his emailed request for withdrawal the very next day.

On Friday following the petition’s withdrawal, Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, made a statement via press release, in which he said the proposed reforms had been politically motivated.

 “The whole idea that redistricting in Oklahoma is broken is a made-up narrative from out-of-state liberals looking to turn Oklahoma into the next California,” Treat said in the statement. “Democrats never complained about redistricting until Republicans were in charge. Their complaints now are a totally transparent attempt by liberals and progressives to try and gain a political edge in Oklahoma.”

Treat’s statement went on to say that the Oklahoma Senate will continue to handle the legislative redistricting process in a professional and thorough manner.

According to People Not Politician’s website, the organization is non-partisan.

According to the website, “We are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents who believe districts should be drawn fairly with public input.”

Although the legislature will continue to handle the redistricting process, Moore said his coalition wants to be as involved as possible.

“Rest assured, they will have the eyes of 4 million Oklahomans watching them very closely on how they draw these districts,” Moore said of the legislators.

He said Oklahomans want, and deserve to have, fair legislative maps. People Not Politicians will continue to function as an organization focused on reforming Oklahoma’s redistricting process, he said.

“I think at the end of day, like our goal is still to get independent redistricting on the ballot as soon as we can,” Moore said. “It just won’t be in November.”