The redistricting process began in earnest Friday for the City of Tulsa.
The five-member Election District Commission charged with redrawing city council districts based on the 2020 census met for the first time. The commission is made up of two Republicans, John Eagleton and Rick Westcott; two Democrats, Sharon King Davis and Joe Williams; and one independent, Susan Neal. Eagleton, Neal, Westcott and Williams are former city councilors.
Census data won’t be available for another five weeks, but the commission expects to present plans in mid-September for a three-month public review process before a new map is finalized by the end of the year.
Delayed data is likely the biggest challenge the commission faces, but it isn't the only one.
"What is always a challenge with something like this, first of all, it's a huge undertaking, and second, anything that might hint at change is always difficult," said Neal, who was elected chair of the redistricting commission during Friday's meeting.
The four commissioners present Friday —Westcott had a scheduling conflict — approved a set of criteria for their work. Some, like keeping districts contiguous and not breaking up county voter precincts, are legal requirements. Others include aligning district boundaries with major physical features like arterial streets, keeping population reassignment to a minimum and not changing a councilor's district.
One requirement in the city charter the commission discussed at some length was a requirement districts "be as nearly equal in population as possible." INCOG is providing staff support to the commission, and Executive Director Rich Brierre said unlike state and federal redistricting, the local process has no set number on allowable deviations.
"There are examples out there in terms of deviation. The last election district commission, I believe the deviation at the time they adopted the plan was less than 2%. We would expect it would be a relatively small percentage difference from council district to council district," Brierre said.
This will be Brierre’s fourth time working on City of Tulsa redistricting, and he has played a part in several other jurisdictions’ redistricting work over the years as well.