Attorneys challenge Oklahoma redistricting initiative

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An initiative petition that seeks to prevent partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts is unconstitutional because it contains multiple subjects and should be thrown out, an attorney argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The petition seeking a public vote on whether to create an independent, bipartisan commission to draw the district lines contains multiple subjects, in violation of the constitution, attorney Robert McCampbell said. He said a similar proposal was recently rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court for the same reason.

“This simply has more than one subject," McCampbell said. “And the voters of Oklahoma, just like the voters of Colorado, deserve to vote on one subject."

McCampbell also argued that a brief explanation of the initiative called a “gist" that is attached to signature pages doesn't adequately explain the proposal.

The group “People Not Politicians" is seeking to gather signatures to place the proposal on the ballot.

Melanie Rughani, an attorney representing the group, said the initiative petition is clearly about one broad subject: redistricting.

“The state has a compelling interest in protecting against partisan gerrymandering," she said. “Gerrymandering is incompatible with the principles of democracy."

Republican legislators, who currently control redistricting, have fiercely opposed the petition. Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat has described the proposal as a “redistricting coup."

Under the plan, the power to draw both legislative and federal congressional districts would be transferred from the Legislature to a bipartisan nine-member commission. The commission would include an equal number of Republicans, Democrats and members unaffiliated with either party, and they would be selected by a group of retired state Supreme Court and appellate judges.

Those behind the effort will require almost 178,000 signatures to qualify the proposed constitutional amendment for the November election ballot. No date has been set for the group to begin collecting signatures.

Redistricting occurs every 10 years following the release of U.S. Census data, which will be collected next year. Under the Oklahoma Constitution, each legislative chamber updates its voting districts to reflect population changes and other factors.

Legislative leaders have said members of bipartisan redistricting committees will begin the redistricting process in 2020 and that new district lines will be finalized through legislation considered in 2021.