Oklahoma special session
The hour is nigh for the Oklahoma Legislature's 2021 special session to complete congressional redistricting. (Michael Duncan)

Fire up the coffee, iron your dress clothes and prepare yourself mentally and physically: A date has been set for the 2021 Oklahoma special session on redistricting.

Less than an hour after finishing a press conference to introduce Allison Garrett as the new chancellor for Oklahoma’s higher education system, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced he is calling the Oklahoma Legislature into a special session Monday, Nov. 15, for the purpose of establishing new congressional district boundaries and tweaking the new state legislative district boundaries they passed earlier this year.

If lawmakers have their proverbial ducks in a redistricted row, the special session could be concluded in as little as one week. Stitt’s official call specifies three purposes:

1. To redistrict Oklahoma’s congressional districts in accordance with all applicable state and federal laws and regulations.

2. To update and redistrict, as necessary, Oklahoma state legislative districts in accordance with all applicable state and federal laws and regulations.

3. To amend statutory candidacy and redistricting deadlines, including but not limited to amending candidacy and residency deadlines, as made necessary by the U.S. Census Bureau’s failure to meet the deadline for production of decennial census data set forth in 13 U.S.C § 141(C).

The 2021 Oklahoma special session has been anticipated since the spring because access to finalized 2020 census data was delayed for states. State law allowed lawmakers to use estimated data to create new state legislative district boundaries within a margin of population. But federal law is more strict for congressional district populations.

With the census data now available, Republican lawmakers are now working to reconfigure Oklahoma’s five congressional districts based on population shifts from the past 10 years and, likely, in a manner that will make it more difficult for Democrats to recapture the 5th Congressional District, which was held by former Rep. Kendra Horn, a Democrat, for one term (2019-2021).

Legislative boundaries could be tweaked also

Oklahoma lawmakers had more flexibility for crafting state legislative district boundaries.

New #okleg maps

House and Senate interactive maps

Full list of Senate maps

Full list of House maps

With the ability to use the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015-2019 American Community Survey data, the Legislature revealed and approved the new legislative district maps around the first of May.

Lawmakers have said they could slightly adjust the new legislative districts during this special session if the official census data caused any district to fall outside of its allowed population variation.

States adjust their legislative and congressional district boundaries based on census data every 10 years.

Population shifts to metro areas

The House and Senate special redistricting committees held public town hall events over the summer and early fall to receive citizen input. Members of the public are also allowed to submit their own congressional map proposals by Oct. 10.

Census data show that Oklahoma’s population has grown in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas and has decreased in several rural counties.

Calls for pandemic-related special session fall short

Over the summer, legislators on both ends of the political spectrum called for the anticipated Oklahoma special session to include topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but for different reasons.

A dozen House Democrats asked Aug. 2 for Gov. Kevin Stitt to call a special session for the repeal of a bill signed in May to prohibit boards of education from implementing mask mandates under most instances.

Days earlier, on July 28, nearly two dozen House Republicans asked for the executive branch to call a special session for the purpose of banning private businesses from implementing vaccine mandates. In August, some of those same Republicans attempted to collect signatures from their colleagues to call a special session via legislative supermajority. The effort failed.