In final redistricting town hall, JoCo and WyCo residents worry about ‘dilution’ of their votes

About a dozen residents showed up in person Tuesday for a final Johnson County meeting gathering public input for the upcoming process to redraw state legislative and Congressional district boundaries. Residents spoke to lawmakers, who were not present in person, through a virtual link that was livestreamed on YouTube. Above, Amy Carter of Overland Park addresses lawmakers. Image via YouTue.

Residents of Kansas’ Third Congressional District again expressed their fears about gerrymandering Tuesday night at a final Johnson County meeting aimed at gathering public input on the upcoming process for redrawing state legislative and Congressional district boundaries in Kansas.

The meeting took place at a church near 199th Street and Metcalf, near the Miami County line.

Though residents could attend in person, lawmakers joined virtually, with commenters speaking to them through a remote connection. (A similar setup was held simultaneously in Bonner Springs Tuesday night.)

Tuesday’s sessions were part of a second round of meetings announced by lawmakers after residents criticized the process for gathering feedback during the first listening tour, which occurred over a single week in August.

Critics, including dozens of commenters at a town hall in Overland Park, complained that the schedule of the first round of meetings was too compressed and each town hall too short to allow for a full accounting of public opinion.

The Kansas Legislature is set to take up the drawing of new legislative and Congressional district maps when it convenes in January, and this latest round of town halls was the last opportunity for residents to make comments publicly.

Kansas redistricting
In August, Kansas Senate and House members gathered at the Matt Ross Community Center to hear public feedback on redistricting. A standing room only crowd showed up that day, with dozens of residents criticizing the process as too compressed and rushed. Photo credit Nikki Lansford.

Citizen’s concerns

At Tuesday’s meeting, around a dozen residents showed up to express their worries to lawmakers about the redistricting process.

Most who spoke raised concerns that the Republican-dominated legislature would end up drawing gerrymandered districts to favor their party, potentially carving up Johnson and Wyandotte counties in order to make it harder for Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids to win reelection.

“The most populous parts of Johnson County should not be included in the same district as rural counties, since our interests can and do vary greatly,” Amy Carter of Overland Park said. “Wyandotte County should be kept with these populous parts of Johnson County to prevent dilution of our urban, suburban and minority voices.”

Carter argued that the populous counties have close ties to one another with their school districts, urban and suburban lifestyles and overall life goals.

Therefore, she said, they should not be regrouped with more rural areas in west and south Johnson County and Miami County, that may have different wants and needs.

“Olathe, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission school districts should be maintained together in the Third District, since the districts have close ties within the community,” Carter said.

Wyandotte resident Connie Brown-Collins, who is the organizer of Concerned Voters of Wyandotte County, said another reason to keep the two counties together was to maintain a sense of diversity.

“Wyandotte County is the smallest but most multicultural and multiracial county in Kansas,” Brown-Collins said. “We are a proud and hardworking county that has band together to advocate for our rights and needs … which are similar to the interests, issues and concerns as [Johnson County].

Census data

While many residents at the meeting expressed anxiety about the redistricting, several also admitted that they understood the current districts could not stay the same.

“I’m aware that the congressional district three cannot be kept entirely intact in order to stay within the mandates of the U.S. Constitution,” Brown-Collins said.

The goal of redistricting is to balance the populations of each of the state’s four Congressional districts, with each district having roughly 734,000 people.

According to the 2020 Census, most Kansas counties lost population over the past 10 years and that population growth in the state was concentrated in urban and metropolitan areas, including Johnson County, which grew by 12% since 2010.

Due to that growth, the state’s Third Congressional District has exceed that ideal population number by almost 60,000 with a population that now stands at roughly 792,000 people.

That means that some part of the current district is going to have to be carved off and put in another Congressional district.

What’s next?

Now that the latest round of town halls has been completed, it will be up to state legislature to redraw new district maps when it convenes for its 2022 session.

Until then, written testimony from residents can still be submitted. To learn more on how to do so, click here.

Gov. Laura Kelly will have to approve whatever plan the legislature forwards to her desk, but with supermajorities in the state House and Senate, Republicans would have the ability to override any potential veto.

The last redistricting occurred in 2011. Back then, lawmakers were not able to come up with a plan and a federal court had to step in and draw the boundaries that are still currently in use.