What is redistricting and why does it happen?
The redistricting process is complicated, but you don’t have to be a politician or a policy wonk to understand the basics. Here’s what you need to know.
In the United States, our government is built on a representation model and that model is based on population. As that population changes so does the districts to reflect those changes. As the population changes, so do the districts and their shape. The process of redistricting is supped to update the size and shape of districts, so each lawmaker continues to represent a fair portion of the population.
Redistricting can be done without partisan objectives. The problem is: that it is not. Politicians meet once a decade after the Federal Census to determine how the districts will change. They use mapping software and big data on citizens to determine who might vote for them and who might not. They use that information to draw the new shapes of their district. We want to stop that corrupt process.
Why we need redistricting reform in Oklahoma
The current process of partisan redistricting is influenced by party politics, mapping technology, and big data.
Partisan redistricting is often called gerrymandering – which is the act of shaping legislative districts with the intention of benefitting parties and their incumbents, not the people that live in those districts.
When districts are Gerrymandered it results in reduced voter choice in the legislators they chose to represent them and thus reduce their voice. What ends up happening is that we get polarization instead of bi-partisan solutions to the problems the state of Oklahoma faces. Here’s why:
- Your vote counts less, and in some cases, not at all. Politicians use techniques like “packing” and “cracking” to target voters with dissenting options, such as voters from the opposite party or minority or low-income voters, to reduce their influence.
- We get fewer options at the ballot box. When districts are shaped by incumbents to protect themselves and their friends, regular citizens, motivated to serve their state, are kept out of office or discouraged from running altogether because it is nearly impossible to win. The result: less choice for you at the ballot box and more of the same at the State Capitol.
- Unpopular legislators stay in office. When elections are competitive politicians become accountable to the people, not the special interest that looks to fund their campaigns. However, in the 2016 general election, nearly 100% of incumbents who ran for reelection won – many of whom had no opponents. This is despite the Oklahoma Legislature having a near 60% disapproval rating. Many citizens who may be included to challenge their legislator who votes against the interest of their constituents to decide not to run – which adds to the vicious cycle of unaccountability.
- Politicians can’t solve problems. When districts that were designed to protect incumbents do protect incumbents, the result is politicians being elected with no incentive to compromise and find bi-partisan solutions to the problems that Oklahoma faces. That within itself results in Oklahoma kicking the can down the road only to have to race the same problems over and over again.
Gerrymandering even hurts politicians wishing to represent their constituents
Even the best of politicians can’t do their jobs because due to gerrymandering they represent multiple communities in a single district that are spread-out and maybe even divided. Many communities have different needs and priorities that they need their legislators to address but cannot because of competing interests and priorities.
But there is good news: We can fix this
Gerrymandering is a tough problem, but we have a solution. Represent Oklahoma is sponsoring a citizen-led initiative petition to change the Oklahoma Constitution to provide for an independent nonpartisan commission – made up of citizens – to oversee the redistricting process. By doing this, we can ensure that fair maps are created in an open and transparent manner and without partisan motivations.