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Rows of empty seats greeted members of Tulsa’s Election District Commission at a public meeting about redistricting plans Tuesday night. Rich Brierre, the Executive Director of INCOG, carefully explained the six large maps lining the side of the room. These maps represented the likeliest options that will decide what Tulsa’s city council districts look like for the next decade.
The six different maps the commission put forth all attempted to ensure districts were as close to equal in population size as possible. However, the maps varied widely in the number of precincts and people who may have their council district reassigned. Anywhere from nearly 25,000 to more than 60,000 Tulsans will likely have a new city councilor after redistricting.
The task before INCOG and the commission was significant. Over the last ten years, a nearly 29% difference in population has opened up between the city’s largest district (District 6) and its smallest (District 1).
“In the 2011 plan, these districts’ population were statistically similar,” Brierre said at the meeting.
Now, the group has to find a way to minimize the differences in population size while trying to shift as few Tulans as possible to other districts.
City holding public meetings for community input on redistricting maps
That’s why city workers, commissioners and councilors alike are hoping to hear from community members in a series of public meetings over the course of the next week. The first meeting on Tuesday night took place at Martin Regional Library on the city’s east side. The other three public meetings are:
- Wednesday, October 13th at 7PM at Hardesty Regional Library (South Tulsa)
- Thursday, October 14th at 7PM at Zarrow Regional Library (West Tulsa)
- Monday, October 18th at 7PM at Rudisill Regional Library (North Tulsa)
Links to the six possible new maps have been posted to INCOG’s website for public review. Representatives from the Election Commission and INCOG will be at each meeting to provide an overview of the process, present the current maps and receive feedback from the community.
“[Community] input provided will be summarized for the commission,” Brierre said. “There could be changes to any of these plans. Nothing is set in stone.”
“Whatever the public input is, we will still have to conform to requirements,” added Commission Chair Susan Neal.
Changing state maps affect redistricting efforts
Many of these requirements, like adherence to the Voting Rights Act of 1964, are in place to promote racial equity in the redistricting process. Others however, like adhering to existing precinct boundaries, can make the process somewhat tricky for commissioners.
The commission works to use existing borders (roads, rivers, etc.) to help form council and precinct boundaries. However, in drawing new district maps, they cannot ignore precinct boundaries formed by legislative districts drawn by the state. This leads to some districts having dividing lines that run haphazardly right through the middle of a neighborhood.
“Hopefully [the state] will fix them, because that’s just really silly,” said District 6 City Councilor Connie Dodson, who was present at the meeting. Dodson’s district, which is likely to see significant shifts in the redistricting process, has multiple boundary lines cutting through neighborhoods.
These requirements also mean that it’s unlikely Greenwood will shift to District 1, as many community members have hoped, unless the state’s legislative boundaries change. Brierre said that the state election commission will meet again in December. He indicated there is a possibility the state commission could change legislative boundaries around Greenwood. If that happens, the city’s election commission could choose to do the same.
Once selected, new council districts will be in place for a decade
Once the state finalizes their legislative maps, the commission will have to quickly do the same.
“Our work has to be finished by the end of December,” chairwoman Neal said.
Once the public meetings are complete and the state finalizes its legislative map, the commission will review community feedback and submit a recommendation to the council for review. After the city clerk approves the recommendation, council members can make “minor adjustments” to the final map.
The new city council district map will go into affect for the 2022 election and last until 2031.