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Sunday, November 17th, 2019Last Update: Wednesday, August 7th, 2019 12:21:15 PM

State Gears up for 2020 Census and Redistricting

By: Constitution Staff

The national census takes place every ten years, and the next census will be in 2020. The U.S. Census Bureau has counted residents in the U.S. every ten years since 1790. Census Day will be April 1, 2020, but Oklahoma residents can self-respond to the 2020 Census beginning in early March 2020, via the internet, by phone, by traditional paper census questionnaire, or in-person with a U.S. Census Bureau enumerator. The U.S. Constitution mandates a full count of the population in Article 1, Section 2. The primary purpose is the Constitutional mandate requiring the decennial Census for reapportionment or redistricting of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but is also used to redraw districts in the Oklahoma Legislature. Legislative redistricting takes place following the release of the Decennial U.S. Census data to reflect any population changes. Over the decades, additional uses for the census data has emerged.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt kicked off the 2020 Census Symposium on Monday, August 26, at MetroTech Conference Center with the announcement of Executive Order 2019-32, which establishes the Oklahoma Census 2020 Complete Count Committee. “A complete and accurate count of Oklahoma’s population is vital to the success of our state,” said Gov. Stitt. “With this Executive Order, I am directing state government to collaborate with leaders across Oklahoma to encourage participation and ensure that every Oklahoman is counted in the 2020 Census. With everyone’s participation, I believe our state’s population will exceed 4 million people.”

The Oklahoma Census 2020 Complete Count Committee will consist of up to 20 individuals appointed by the Governor who will work to provide recommendations on how Oklahoma can receive the most complete and accurate census count. In addition to the state committee, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce is working to encourage formation of local Complete Count Committees across Oklahoma. “The Oklahoma Department of Commerce is coordinating with leaders in all 77 counties to form local Complete Count Committees,” said Brent Kisling, Executive Director, Oklahoma Department of Commerce. “These trusted partners have the relationships in their local communities to encourage participation in the hard-to-count geographies and populations. Improving upon the participation rates from the 2010 Census is a large undertaking and will ensure that Oklahoma is not undercounted.”

The Census Bureau does not appropriate funds to the states. However, decennial census counts are used when determining how to allocate federal funds. Because of this, it is extremely important that all Oklahomans respond to the Census. “Beyond the Constitutional mandate requiring the decennial Census for reapportionment, the 2020 Census will be used over the following ten years as a baseline to distribute federal funding from approximately 300 federal programs,” said Jon Chiappe, Director of Research & Economic Analysis at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. “These programs impact the state, tribal nations and our local communities in many aspects of our lives including education, healthcare, housing, and transportation among others. If we are not accurately counted, it will place a burden on our state, tribal and local governments as they provide services to larger populations with fewer federal resources.”

On September 4, Oklahoma House of Representatives Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) announced that the House will again use the transparent, citizen-driven redistricting process that received bipartisan praise when it was last used in 2011. In addition, the House will enhance the process further by soliciting input from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, executive branch and state, county and local officials in its redistricting effort, which begins next year following the 2020 decennial census.

The upcoming House redistricting effort will be overseen by a bipartisan Redistricting Committee, with subcommittees focusing on different regions of the state. “The House process in 2011 was well-received by the public and was praised by both the majority and minority parties in the House because it included citizens and was transparent,” said McCall. “Citizens want to be more involved in the redistricting process, and I believe our constituents have valuable perspectives that should be considered related to their representation at the Capitol. The Redistricting Committee will be bipartisan and reflect the rural, urban and suburban makeup of the House of Representatives. The committee will work best if it reflects the will of people from all across the state.”

Speaker McCall said the Redistricting Committee will travel around the state and receive input from citizens in town-hall settings. The House also has created an email address, redistrictoklahoma2020@okhouse.gov, to allow citizens to make suggestions and have their voices heard throughout the process. Those emails will be considered by the committee along with other public testimony. McCall plans to name members of the Redistricting Committee in early 2020. Work will begin in 2020 and be finalized through legislation considered in 2021. The redrawn district lines will go into effect for the 2022 elections. Under the Oklahoma Constitution, each legislative chamber engages in redistricting to update its districts to reflect population changes and other factors.

On October 7, Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-Oklahoma City) announced his appointments to lead the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting. Treat appointed Senator Lonnie Paxton, (R-Tuttle), as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting and named Senator Dave Rader (R-Tulsa) as vice chair of the committee. “The Senate will conduct its redistricting process in a thorough, bipartisan, and professional manner. I have full confidence Senator Paxton and Senator Rader will do a great job in leading the select committee’s efforts,” said Treat.

Treat said internal Senate discussions are ongoing regarding the redistricting process. He said other members of the select committee, including Democratic members, would be announced at a later date. Treat said Senate staff already is at work gathering information.

Treat also announced the hiring of Keith Beall as Senate redistricting director. Beall will lead Senate staff efforts on redistricting and help coordinate Senate efforts to encourage Oklahomans’ participation in the 2020 Census. Beall has prior experience with the redistricting process. “Keith Beall has a wealth of knowledge and experience on redistricting in Oklahoma. I know he will do an exemplary job for the Senate and am pleased he accepted my challenge to join the Senate team,” Treat said.

While each legislative chamber engages in redistricting the seats for its members separately, the two chambers of the Legislature will work together for the reapportionment of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As we prepared to go to press, a group calling itself “People Not Politicians” filed the intent to circulate an initiative petition to strip the Legislature of the power to draw congressional district boundaries. Under their proposal, a panel of retired and unelected judges would choose a panel of six unelected commissioners (who in turn would select three more unelected commissioners) to do the redistricting.

Redistricting is one of the few restraints that the Oklahoma Legislature has over its congressional delegation. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat did not think much of the proposal, calling it “a redistricting coup.”

Under state law, petitioners will have 90 days to collect nearly 178,000 valid signatures to force a statewide vote on the proposed constitutional amendment. In the unlikely event that they were able to do that, Gov. Kevin Stitt would then have to set an election on the proposal, probably in November 2020.

We will monitor the progress of this effort to usurp the Legislature’s power.

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