A grassroots group that wants to end partisan gerrymandering in Oklahoma is taking its act on the road this fall.

As part of a statewide tour, People Not Politicians visited Ada on Thursday to drum up support for a plan to take the task of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional districts out of politicians’ hands. That job would be turned over to an independent commission made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and three Independents.

The plan represents a new approach to redistricting which would eliminate gerrymandering, said Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians.

“The current system allows politicians to draw all the district boundaries on their own, including their own districts,” he said Friday in a phone interview. “We think that is a huge conflict of interest because it allows them to draw the boundaries however they want and dodge accountability to the voters.

“So we have proposed creating an independent redistricting commission that would be in charge of drawing those districts.”

Oklahoma lawmakers currently redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts once a decade, based on current U.S. Census data. The next census is set for 2020.

Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating district boundaries so they favor a particular political party or group.

Getting on the ballot

The next step for People Not Politicians is getting the proposal in front of voters.

The Oklahoma secretary of state is currently reviewing a petition to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot. If the secretary of state approves the petition, People Not Politicians will have 90 days to collect 178,000 signatures and secure a spot on the ballot.

If voters back the measure, redistricting duties would be transferred from the Legislature to an independent commission in charge of redistricting. Any Oklahoman could apply to serve on the commission, as long as they meet certain requirements.

“It can’t be anyone who serves in partisan elected office, such as legislators,” Moore said. “No legislative staff, no party staff, no lobbyists or anyone who is an immediate family member of one of those categories.”

A panel of three retired Oklahoma Supreme Court justices would review and vet applications, then sort the applicants into three smaller pools — one for Republicans, one for Democrats and one for Independents. Three candidates’ names would be drawn from each group to select the commissioners.

The commissioners would draw up new maps for Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional districts, based on the results of the 2020 census. Those maps would be implemented for the 2022 election cycle.

Putting an independent panel in charge of redistricting will take political considerations out of the process and make it more transparent, Moore said.

“Right now, the politicians go back in a back room — or I guess more often, they go get a hotel suite somewhere — and hole up with their lobbyists and donors and whoever else they want, whatever experts they’ve hired or consultants,” he said. “And they draw the maps in secret. Then they come out and push them through the Legislature super quick, and no one gets to see them or really review them. And then they’re approved.

“This commission would be very different from that. The commission is entirely subject to the Open Records Act and the Open Meetings Act. They’re required to have open meetings, to go around the state and hold open, public hearings about the process.”

Moore said voters would be able to review the proposed maps before the commission approves them.

Ending gerrymandering

Thursday night’s meeting in Ada was the ninth stop on People Not Politicians’ statewide tour, which is designed to educate people about the proposal and encourage them to get involved. The next stop is scheduled for Dec. 5 in Enid.

Moore said voters seem enthusiastic about the possibility of taking politics out of the redistricting process.

“A lot of folks are passionate about ending gerrymandering, and a lot of people come up and say, ‘I’ve been complaining about this for years. I’m so glad you guys are working on it,’” he said.

For more information, visit peoplenotpoliticians.org.

Eric Swanson can be contacted by email at eswanson@theadanews.com.

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