Every 10 years, a committee appointed by the mayor is charged with making a recommendation on how to redraw the boundaries of the city’s six council district in an effort to keep the population in each district relatively equal.
While the population of the district’s is the main driver, you can bet, there are other goals and objectives taken into consideration as the lines are drawn. This year, what’s at the top of a number of community members’ redistricting list is ensuring the minority vote is protected and neighborhoods are kept together.
“As we work to build a vibrant city for all, it is important for us to ensure Kansas Citians in all neighborhoods have fair representation at city hall,” said Mayor Quinton Lucas. “The Kansas Citians who will serve on our redistricting commission showcase the strength and diversity of our city, and I know they will each commit themselves to recommending a fair map to city council.”
The nonpartisan committee will make their recommendation for redistricting to the city council to approve based on census data and community feedback to ensure everyone’s voices are heard as the city’s population grows.
Since Sept. 8, the committee, made up of nine members representing each of Kansas City’s districts, has met weekly to strategize with the city’s Planning and Development Department to redraw the district lines. Each commissioner has a strong understanding of and strong ties to their home district.
Typically, the redistricting committee has about nine months to engage the community prior to making their recommendation, but because of the pandemic, the census data their decision relies upon was delayed, and the committee was forced to work within a very tight schedule. The committee will need to have their recommendation for the new district boundaries ready for city council by Dec. 1. The City council will have until the end of the year to adopt the final district map.
In addition to trying to get the number of people in each district as close to 85,000 (city’s 510,000 population divided by six districts) the committee must also honor the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was adopted to stop redistricting practices that prevented racial or ethnic minority populations from fully participating in the political process. To honor the act, the redistricting committee must ensure that the minority vote in districts is not suppressed through the redistricting changes.
“It’s important to hear voices of community members and neighborhoods. We want to understand what’s at stake and what’s important to you,” Smith said.
The committee has held meetings and community feedback sessions in each district to hear specific concerns and ideas. One of the concerns heard often is making sure the district boundaries help solidify the minority vote, not diminish it.
At the Oct. 2 meeting, held at the Robert J. Mohart Center in the 3rd District, Manuel Abarca, treasurer of the Kansas City Public School Board, said he wanted the committee to consider putting neighborhoods with higher Latino populations like the Historic Northeast and Westside in one district, so there would be a better chance electing a Latino member to the city council.
“Those communities are so important, so diverse, so culturally rich and their voices haven’t been heard in decades,” Abarca said.
Commissioner Adams agreed, suggesting the committee add the Historic Northeast to the Fourth District from the 3rd District to hopefully increase the Latino population in the 4th District.
“This is an equity issue,” Adams said. “It’s unconscionable to me that it’s been almost two generations without a Latino on city council. To the extent that we can, we have to take that into consideration.”
Latinos make up about 10% of Kansas City’s population.
The redistricting committee is still meeting every Wednesday on the 10th floor of city hall from 4-6 p.m. and remains open to feedback from com – munity members.
“We’re transparent, we’re collaborative, we want the feedback,” said Commissioner Hill. “Email us, call us and let us know how best we can make this process reflective of your community.”
So far, the committee seems to have narrowed their interest to two maps: 8.4 and 8.6. Many of the commissioners are leaning toward version 8.4, which keeps districts compact, shifts the 3rd District south and creates a horizontal 1st District in the Northland.
Commissioner Adams said he prefers 8.4, but wants to see the Black population in the 3rd District to get up to at least 55%. Commissioners will vote on their final map Nov. 22.
The Case for Moving from Six To 12 City Council Districts
During the redistricting process, there has been a lot of interest expressed in seeing more and smaller districts with most people expressing concern that the current six district system with 85,000 people in each is far too large for all voices to be heard.
While the decision to create more districts is not within the redistricting committee’s power, Redistricting Committee Chair Stephanie Smith said the committee could include it in their recommendations to the city council.
John Sharp, former Sixth District councilman said at a redistricting meeting that the large districts make it much more difficult for minorities to win a seat running at-large.
“If you can’t raise a lot of money to run at-large, you’re at a disadvantage,” Sharp said, adding that having larger districts means having to have more resources. “Only having six districts, it’s hard to run door-to-door campaigns because the districts are so big.”
To create more districts, the mayor would need to form a Charter Review Commission to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide. Some community members say 12 districts would help protect minority representation on the City Council and increase the likelihood of getting a Latino elected to the council.
To give feedback and contact the committee, visit: www.kcmo.gov/ programs-initiatives/redistrict.