An initiative petition that seeks to change how the state redraws its legislative and congressional districts drew two protests Friday in the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The protests challenge the sufficiency of the gist of the petition and its constitutionality.
The gist of the petition is a description of the measure that appears on the petition signature sheets.
“The biggest issue in Initiative Petition 420 is that instead of being controlled by the people’s elected representatives, legislative redistricting would be controlled by a body of people who are neither elected nor accountable in any way to the voters,” said Robert McCampbell, an attorney representing the protestants, in written comments sent to media.
An initiative petition filed Oct. 28 with the Oklahoma secretary of state seeks through a series of constitutional amendments to create a nine-member commission that would be responsible for redrawing legislative and congressional districts.
The state constitution requires legislative districts to be redrawn after every United States decennial census to ensure equal representation.
Critics of the current system claim the process is subject to gerrymandering, where districts are drawn to favor the party in power.
The initiative petition was filed by People Not Politicians, a coalition that includes the Oklahoma League of Women Voters and Let’s Fix This, a grassroots reform group that advocates government openness and citizen involvement.
Opponents claim the initiative petition fails to comply with a state constitutional requirement that the petition address only one general subject.
The petition, opponents claim, presents multiple separate subjects including changing the redistricting process for both state legislative offices and state congressional offices and changing who would control the redistricting process.
The challenge, filed on behalf of Roger Gaddis and Eldon Merklin, also claims the petition violates the First Amendment right to participate in political processes.
A second challenge filed on behalf of Paula Newberry and Merklin claims language in the gist of the petition fails to notify prospective signers of important aspects of the petition, including how the redistricting commissioners would be elected.
“This is in an effort to eliminate the voters’ ability to influence the redistricting process by voting for their political party of choice,” according to a brief outlining the challenge to the gist of the petition.
Redistricting commissions have been established in several states in an attempt to limit gerrymandering.
In Oklahoma, the districts are determined by the Legislature.
State Republican legislative leaders have criticized the petition, claiming the state has not had problems with or successful lawsuits over its redistricting process.
The initiative petition involves a series of constitutional amendments that would create a nine-member commission evenly divided among members of the two largest parties — currently Republican and Democrat — and all others. Two members of each of the three groups — a total of six — are to be selected at random from applicant pools screened by a panel of retired appellate court judges. Those six would choose the remaining three members.
Supporters have 90 days to collect 177,958 valid signatures after the challenges raised are resolved.
Supporters hope to have the measure on a statewide ballot in the 2020 general election.
Andy Moore, executive director of People Not Politicians, issued the following statement after the challenges were filed:
“Today’s lawsuit is a misguided attempt by special interests and the politicians beholden to them to deny the people of Oklahoma the right to vote on a proposal that would put an end to partisan gerrymandering. These frivolous challenges are proof that those who benefit from the current system will do anything they can to maintain the status quo.
“It is wrong for politicians to pick their voters. Our initiative puts power back in the hands of the people and will make our state better. That is why we will defend this initiative and trust the court will rule in favor of the people of Oklahoma.”