State lawmakers need to make the process of redrawing the congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts as transparent, fair and nonpartisan as possible. Admittedly, that’s asking a lot of politicians.
Lawmakers are constitutionally required to redraw district boundaries every 10 years to make sure that one person’s vote in one district has about the same weight as the vote of any other person in the state. That may seem relatively simple — all you need is the 2010 census, a state map and a calculator. But it can be complicated, akin to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.
Population changes — mostly from rural to urban areas — necessitate shifting territory from some districts to others. That’s why, for example, the “Big First” congressional district keeps getting larger and now covers most of the state.
In some cases, current legislative districts have to be combined, resulting in incumbent lawmakers competing against each other in newly formed districts. Lawmakers also need to avoid dividing “communities of interest” or diluting the voting power of minorities.
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The shifts create an opportunity for the political party in control to redraw districts in ways that protect their incumbents or improve their odds of winning seats currently held by members of the other party. That’s why districts can end up looking like they were drawn with an Etch A Sketch.
This editorial board has supported creating a nonpartisan, independent panel to redraw districts, similar to those used in Iowa and other states, as a way to reduce the politics and gerrymandering and prevent incumbents from being able to draw their own districts. Attorney General Derek Schmidt championed such a change when he was a state senator, but it didn’t get anywhere.
The last time lawmakers redrew boundaries, after the 2000 census, then-Attorney General Carla Stovall challenged their map in federal court. The dispute nearly postponed an August primary.
Current lawmakers are now starting preliminary work on redistricting but are waiting for the 2010 census to be adjusted for Kansas students and military members living outside the state, which may not be completed until July. They have indicated that they will try to be fair and logical in drawing new districts.
They need to be. Redistricting is supposed to be about ensuring equal rights, not about political games.