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Redistricting reform petition returns, revitalized

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Gerrymandering

File photo, Jan. 20, 2020: Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians, said his organization would be ready for the signature collection effort if Initiative Petition 420 is allowed to move forward. Initiative Petition 420 would establish an independent commission to redraw legislative districts, a responsibility now controlled by state legislators.

On Aug. 11, the secretary of state’s office officially filed the newest iteration of a redistricting reform measure that had been voluntarily withdrawn in September.

The petition, now known as Initiative Petition 430, or State Question 815, is available for viewing online through the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s website. The proposal, if successfully enacted by voters, would establish an Independent Redistricting Commission to handle Oklahoma’s legislative redistricting process. Ordinarily, the process of legislative redistricting is handled by the legislators themselves.

Proponents of redistricting reform argue that allowing sitting legislators to draw their own districts enables them to disadvantage opposition voters. The main organizational proponent of the measure, People not Politicians, describes itself as a non-partisan organization with the aim of ending partisan gerrymandering in Oklahoma.

Executive Director of People not Politicians, Andy Moore, said the initial plan was to have the question on the November ballot in time to get the commission established before the next redistricting in 2021.

“And that plan would have worked, had it not been for this, you know, totally unanticipated global pandemic,” Moore said. “COVID really threw a wrench into things.”

Moore said his organization was prepared to collect signatures, but with the ongoing pandemic, and the secretary of state’s hold on signature collection, the strategy had to be revised. He said once the hold got lifted, there just wasn’t time to get everything done in time to get on the November ballot.

Due to this setback, the wording of the petition had to be slightly tweaked in order to make the proposal fit better with the new timeline for enactment, Moore said.

“As soon as this measure is approved by voters, the commission will be formed, and they will go about the business of redrawing the districts,” Moore said, summarizing the changes to the proposal.

He said the legislature is still scheduled to do redistricting in 2021, so these changes would enable the commission to redraw the districts if and when the voters approve the measure.

Earlier in the year, the proposal was delayed by multiple legal challenges. Moore said he is confident that this new iteration of the petition will be able to overcome any legal hurdles that arise, if any do at all.

“The first time, The Supreme Court had us rewrite the gist,” Moore said. “But in both occasions, they said that the substance of the policy is constitutional.”

He said the legislature has promised transparency and fairness in the redistricting process, but he isn’t counting on it.

“While I hope that’s the case, we have almost 120 years of evidence, of politicians saying that’s what they’re going to do, and not doing it,” Moore said.

Also, more transparency in the redistricting process doesn’t remove the conflict of interest inherent in allowing politicians to draw their own districts, he said.

“Politicians are great at promising one thing and doing another,” Moore said. “So, while I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they would do the right thing, history says otherwise.”

Moore said his organization would be ready to begin signature collection as soon as the petition is approved to start, potentially as soon as September. He said the organization is consulting with an infections disease physician, to ensure signature collection will be as safe as possible.

“We already know, it’s a long road to the ballot,” Moore said. “People are excited about doing this, they are very supportive, and they’re eager to collect signatures, and so this way we can get the ball rolling as quickly as possible.