Kansans should focus on geography, culture, policy in redistricting forums, advocates say

By: - November 15, 2021 5:15 pm

Throughout the redistricting process this year, there has been a lack of transparency, says Michael Poppa of the Mainstream Coalition. His organization is part of the Kansas Fair Maps Coalition, which met Monday to talk about upcoming town halls. (Screen capture of Kansas Fair Maps Coalition webinar by Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — While guidelines for testimony and the redistricting process remain up in the air, advocates for fair maps in Kansas are advising residents to look at past frameworks when speaking to lawmakers at upcoming town halls.

House and Senate committees on redistricting are set to host four town hall meetings beginning Nov. 22, but details remain scarce on what legislators want to hear from attendees. All committee members will attend virtually.

Kansans can attend one of the various locations set up in cities across the state or join legislators online to provide testimony virtually. While the cities are known, the specific locations where people can testify in person remain unknown, as is the amount of time allocated per person.

With the next set of meetings around the corner, concerns about the process during the first round of town halls in August appear to remain.

“We’ve said several times that this has not been the most transparent process from the beginning of this redistricting process,” said Michael Poppa, executive director of the Mainstream Coalition. “We’ll know (the locations) when they decide to give them to us, but we can tell you that we … and the partner organizations will be reaching out to the community at large to let them know that information.”

Members of the Kansas Fair Maps Coalition are advising people planning to testify in the upcoming round of virtual town halls to base testimony around past redistricting guidelines as information regarding the process for 2022 remain scarce. (Screen capture of Kansas Fair Maps Coalition webinar by Kansas Reflector)

Representatives of several other groups comprising the Kansas Fair Maps Coalition joined Poppa on Monday to provide Kansans with a brief overview of the framework and expectations for these upcoming town halls. They also addressed potential legal action that could arise from the redistricting process and the future of Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids.

All meetings in the second round will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The town halls will continue as planned, despite the Legislature meeting for a special session beginning Nov. 22.

Kansans can provide in-person testimony for the 2nd District on Nov. 22 in Atchison, Ottawa, Independence or on Native American reservations; the 1st District on Nov. 23 in Emporia, Great Bend, Liberal or McPherson; the 4th District on Nov. 29 in Newton or El Dorado; and the 3rd District on Nov. 30 in Bonner Springs or Stilwell.

Those wishing to testify must submit written and oral testimony to the Kansas Legislative Research Department at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting they wish to attend.

Troy Spain, of the Kansas Civic Engagement Table, shared three areas of the specific focus of the Legislature that those wishing to testify should keep in mind.

“First is geographic similarity,” Spain said. “They are going to consider cultural and ethnic boundaries and they will look at policy concerns.”

The GOP-controlled Legislature is expected to redraw boundaries for the 3rd District to give Republicans an advantage. The district contains two of the state’s most populous counties — Johnson and Wyandotte — as well as part of Miami County.

Mary Galligan, of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, said new census data indicated the counties would exceed the ideal population for congressional districts and would need to be partially split to be approved by the Kansas Supreme Court.

“There’s virtually no allowable deviation from the ideal congressional district size and for legislative districts. The rule of thumb is plus or minus 5%,” Galligan said. “Some part of one of those counties or potentially one of the counties is going to have to be split off to keep that population as it should be.”

In Kansas, the allowable population for a congressional district is 734,470. According to the 2020 census, Johnson County is home to 609,863 residents, and Wyandotte County has 169,245 people.

Legislative districts vary. In Kansas House districts, the population can range anywhere from 22,329 to 24,679. In the Senate, there may be a population of 69,775 to 77,119.

If the maps drawn by the legislative committee do not meet these requirements, they are unlikely to receive approval from Kansas courts. The state Supreme Court also may become involved should there be concerns of gerrymandering, a lawsuit is filed, or the panel fails to submit maps, said Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.

“If there’s an impasse in the Legislature like what happened 10 years ago, where no maps were drawn and passed into law, a panel of three district court judges will be appointed to basically decide what the map should be,” Brett said.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.

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