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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Senate passed a controversial congressional redistricting plan after a week of debate between Republicans and Democrats. Although the bill ultimately passed 36 to 10, with only one Republican voting against it, Democrats maintain that the map is not in the best interest of Oklahomans. 

Many Democrats are critical of the map because they say it splits up minority populations, specifically the metro area’s growing Hispanic population, in a process known as cracking. Cracking is done to limit the voting power of one demographic by spreading them among multiple districts. Some lawmakers claim that that’s what the Republican-led redistricting effort is trying to do, specifically in the state’s 5th District. 

“You know for a fact that somebody had to look at that and say, ‘Hey, there’s too many Hispanics in this particular area and if we don’t divide it, they’re gonna have a larger voice if they come together,’” said Sen. George Young. 

But chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee Lonnie Paxton says despite what critics say, race didn’t play a role in their drawing of the map. 

“According to the voting rights act, we have to see if there’s a majority minority district,” he said. “If there is, then we have to draw a district that takes care of that concern. When we determined that was not an issue, then we totally did not ever look at race.”

Oklahoma Senate
The Oklahoma State Senate, pictured on March 28, 2018. (KFOR/Bill Miston)

Still, lawmakers like Young disagree. 

“That is just ludicrous,” he said when KFOR relayed Paxton’s quote to him. “Why would you even say that?”

Other Democrats say even if the authors didn’t initially realize the impact this map would have on minority populations, they should have known after receiving public criticism upon the map’s release. But they say Republicans instead ignored those concerns, one senator adding during session that “a blindfold does not make this fair, it’s an excuse.”

But Paxton maintains they took all public criticisms and comments into consideration.

“We did everything we can do,” he said. “We got all the public comment we could get through the town halls [and] through the comment process.”

He adds although his critics have been vocal, they only represent a small number.

“The affirmative vote today I think proved that the legislature also agreed with us,” he said. 

Both chambers also passed house and senate redistricting bills, and now all three bills head to the governor’s desk for his signature.