Kansans must elect representatives who will oppose gerrymandering

Protesters attend a rally for fair maps on March 26, 2019, in Washington, DC. The rally was in conjunction with Supreme Court hearings in landmark redistricting cases out of North Carolina and Maryland (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Tiffany Muller is the president and executive director of End Citizens United, Let America Vote, and the End Citizens/Let America Vote United Action Fund.

Long waits to vote because of too few polling locations or discriminatory voter ID laws that disenfranchise the young, old, poor and voters of color are examples of policy choices our elected leaders enact to make it harder for our government to reflect the will of the people.

That’s exactly what self-serving politicians are afraid of, and it’s why I was shocked and appalled at the comments Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle made while speaking to a conservative group in Wichita.

“I guarantee you we can draw four Republican congressional maps,” she said, and spoke openly of giving a Republican running in her district “some more Republican neighborhoods in order to make sure she stays elected.”

What the Senate president is describing is called gerrymandering, and it’s wrong. Politicians shouldn’t be rigging maps and picking their voters. Voters should be electing their public officials in a fair manner. It’s self-serving when politicians slice and dice neighborhoods into all sorts of strangely shaped districts so that they don’t have to worry about competitive elections or being held accountable to voters.

Wagle even said she could rig the maps to get rid of U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids without letting the voters have a say at all. That’s just wrong.

I know Kansans believe in fairness, because I am from there. I got my start in politics as a city council member in Topeka, and I was proud to work for everyone in my district, not just those who supported me. I was the first openly gay public official in Kansas, and not everyone agreed with my efforts to expand anti-discrimination protections in Topeka. But we didn’t shut down people’s voices; instead, we held meetings that went on for hours upon hours so that everyone could be heard.

Democracy can be noisy, messy and frustrating, but elected officials have a responsibility to represent their constituents, engage in debate, present their views and then let voters have their say in a free and fair election.

I am not afraid of democracy, and Kansans certainly aren’t either, but unfortunately, many politicians are.

Thankfully, leaders like Davids agree. Davids was a leader in supporting the For The People Act, a comprehensive anti-corruption and voting rights package that passed the House last year.

That bill would take redistricting out of the hands of self-serving politicians like Wagle and put independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions in charge of drawing districts that reflect communities and are free of partisan influence. The bill would also end the dominance of big money in politics and make it easier to vote.

More than one in five Americans already live in a state with an independent redistricting commission, and in 2018, five states passed redistricting reforms by ballot initiative, in some cases with more than 70% of the vote.

As president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, I work every day to try to make democracy work for regular people instead of the wealthy and well connected. The truth is that the same people who want big donors to be able to buy our elections are usually the same people who want to make it harder to vote.

Politicians will try to use their power to distort our democracy and make government work only for themselves, not for Kansans. Kansas deserves better.

That’s why this election is so important. We know bold leaders committed to reform want to fix our broken system, but Kansans should ask all elected officials about their position on gerrymandering and other critical reforms.

We can use the 2020 election as an opportunity to renew our democracy and hold politicians accountable for their efforts to undermine and ignore the will of the people.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.