, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 18, 2011

Redistrict revision petition may fail

Effort to change redistricting procedure is short of signatures

— Efforts to reform the way the state redraws its congressional and legislative districts every 10 years by a ballot initiative could fall short of organizers’ goal.

Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, launched the initiative petition in September after the courts denied his request to preserve his district, which was drawn out of existence earlier this year.

Federal law requires state legislators review populations every 10 years following the census to make sure voting districts are evenly divided by population. In Oklahoma, senate districts were redrawn with the goal of apportioning 78,000 residents to each senator.

During the redistricting process, Tahlequah was drawn out of Wilson’s District 3 and into District 9, a post held by Sen. Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee.

Wilson’s initiative petition asks that redistricting take into considerations other factors in addition to population when redrawing district maps. Those factors include political neutrality, equal opportunity and connecting borders. The petition also seeks cohesive districts that take into account “distinct population groups” and “common communities of interest.”

In his petition seeking to invalidate the redistricting maps approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, Wilson argued the redrawn districts disregard the significant community and cultural differences between Muskogee and Tahlequah.

Wilson also said the revised Senate District 3 “unnecessarily divides Cherokee, Delaware and Mayes counties while removing the heart of the Cherokee Nation from this district.” That division, Wilson said, “serves only partisan purposes and disregards constitutional standards.”

To get the issue on the ballot next year and before the voters, the signatures of nearly 83,000 registered voters are needed before Dec. 27. Wilson said he fears that goal is unattainable.

“It doesn’t look like we are going to get there — it depends on how many people get involved in the urban areas like Tulsa and Oklahoma City,” Wilson said, noting the petition drive started too late to solicit signatures during the state fairs in those cities. “People tend to not get involved until it affects them, and we just don’t have enough voters here to get the number of signatures we need.”

Wilson, who is ineligible to seek re-election due to term limits, said the best chance of getting the reforms being sought is the reversal of an Oklahoma County judge’s ruling denying him injunctive relief.

Wilson filed the petition in Oklahoma County District Court after the state Supreme Court denied his claim there and instructed him to file at the district court level. When the district court case was dismissed, Wilson’s lawyer, Mark Hammons, appealed the decision.

“The frustration to me is this is obviously wrong,” Wilson said. “It’s like Casey Anthony: Just because she was acquitted doesn’t mean she didn’t have anything to do with the death of her baby.”

While the challenge to obtain 83,000 signatures for the initiative petition appears to be an uphill battle, local organizers are making a final push.

Jim Haley, who is circulating the petition in the Muskogee area, said the issue of fairness in legislative redistricting is too important to ignore.

“Regardless of party, it’s the right thing to do for Oklahoma,” Haley said.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or

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