Legislators, advocacy groups, and Wichitans are all awaiting the impending redistricting of Kansas’ congressional and legislative districts. Minority groups are particularly concerned that the lines for districts might be redrawn in a manner that diminishes their political power and representation.
One of two Black members in the 40-member Kansas Senate is from Wichita and three of six Black members of Kansas 125-member House are from Wichita. With new census number revealing Blacks are 6% of the state’s population, at 5% of both the Kansas Senate and House, Blacks in Kansas are represented at a level just below their percentage in the state.
However, new and unfavorable boundary lines for districts could easily wipe out Black representation in the Kansas legislature.
That was a concern repeatedly voiced at a redistricting town hall meeting held in Wichita on Wed. Aug. 11m, at WSU’s Metropolitan Complex. Members of the state’s Redistricting Committee were in town to hear the concerns of individuals about the upcoming redistricting process. The committee planned 14 similar meetings across the state.
By law, the redrawing of the boundaries for all elected offices in the country is required every 10-years. Redistricting uses new population numbers compiled from the decennial U.S. Census to make sure the size of one districts are relatively equal in population. It’s all about “one-person, one-vote” and equalizing the voting power of each citizen.
So, the redistricting process redraws the boundary lines of each district in the state to make the number of individuals in each Kansas House District is just about the same as the populations in all other House Districts and the same is done for each Senate District. .
With all but one of the Black elected officials in the state representing districts with large Black populations, expanding or shifting the boundaries of the districts they represent to include areas that are more heavily White, diminishes the power of the Black vote.
Hispanic and LGBTQ+ voters are also concerned about redistricting diminishing the power of their vote. The concerns are definitely being expressed by Democrats. As the minority party in the state and the Republican Party in control of redrawing the district lines, Democrats have reasons to be concerned that Republicans may draw the lines to further strengthen their majority in the legislature.
“Respect the tradition of recognizing that all of our votes are important and honor the constitution’s protection of voting rights for all,” said Friends University history professor Dr. Gretchen Eick at the Wichita redistricting meeting.
Karen Casey, a community advocate, silenced the room when she asked the panel, “What are you so afraid of? Black people are no longer slaves. We are an educated community whose voices matter.
Redistricting will also affect district boundaries for the Wichita City Council, Sedgwick County Commission, local school boards as well as the boundaries of the state’s four congressional districts.
The drawing of district boundary lines in a way that purposely favors a race, political party or other group is called gerrymandering. Last year, a video surfaced of a top Republican lawmaker discussing how gerrymandering can help unseat the U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the lone Democrat in the Kansas congressional delegation,. Davids represents the 3rd District, encompassing all of Wyandotte and Johnson counties.
To help reduce political bias in the redistricting process, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly called for the creation of a nonpartisan commission to handle redrawing state legislative and congressional districts. Her proposal was voted down by the Republican legislature.
Last May, the Center for American Progress issued a report that showed unjustly drawn congressional districts shifted 59 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives on average during the 2012, 2014, and 2016 elections.