Douglas County commissioners will sit down in about two weeks to begin what could be something of an arduous political task redrawing the lines of the county's three commission districts.
Chris McKenzie, county administrator, says the boundary lines need to be reworked because the 1990 census shows the districts are disproportionate in terms of population.
Ideally, each of the districts should contain one-third of the county's 81,798 residents, or 27,266.
The 1st District, which now contains 25,583 residents, is 1,683 below the ideal figure. The district is represented by Mark Buhler, a Republican, is located mainly in northwestern and central Lawrence and contains two precincts in far eastern Lawrence.
The 2nd District, which now contains 23,653 residents, is 3,613 under the ideal figure. The 2nd District is represented by Mike Amyx, a Democrat, and includes southern and southeastern parts of the city, part of central Lawrence and most of the eastern part of the county, including Eudora, Vinland and Baldwin.
The 3rd District, which contains 32,562 residents, is 5,296 above the ideal figure. The 3rd District is represented by Louie McElhaney, a Republican, and encompasses western Lawrence, western Douglas County and Wakarusa Township. The 3rd District also contains a couple of districts in east Lawrence.
THE LAST TIME the districts' boundaries were redrawn was in 1979. State agricultural census numbers were used to realign the districts, McKenzie said.
McKenzie says he plans to deliver a report to the commission in about two weeks that recommends the need for changing the districts.
He said he doesn't have a target deviation a range that the population of each district can fall into and still meet the constitutional one-person, one-vote requirement.
"I don't have a target deviation, but the statute says that the district must be as compact and equal in population as possible," McKenzie said.
McKenzie said he hasn't yet tried to figure out any maps for the commission, although he has worked with the city-county planning office staff to get some preliminary figures to the commission.
"I think what we'll do first is to have a study session," McKenzie said. "If they ask me to prepare some options, I'll do that."
THE COMMISSION will use the census population figures of each of the county's precincts as the building blocks for each district.
There are two commission seats up for election this year the 2nd District and 3rd District.
McKenzie said he never has been involved personally in a county redistricting process before and didn't know how much of a role partisan politics will play.
Two commissioners contacted Saturday weren't certain either.
"I really don't know," said Amyx, whose seat is up for election this year. "We just got the maps from the planning director and are starting to review the things. We haven't gotten into it yet. I'm sure we'll start to have discussions soon to see how the process goes."
Buhler said so far partisan politics hasn't entered the picture.
"Not yet," he said. "Obviously we've got to equalize it. I don't know if we're going to get any wild stuff or not. I'm a rookie at it."
THE DISTRICTS could be made more contiguous, especially since the 3rd District includes some eastern Lawrence precincts, Buhler said.
"I don't know what the voter mix is in each precinct," he said. "I don't think there is any predominantly Republican districts, but I don't know that."
McElhaney said he didn't think partisan politics will be involved.
"I don't know why it would be much of a problem," McElhaney said.
He said his 3rd District could give up two precints to the 1st District and two precincts to the 2nd District, which would bring his district to being only about 250 residents above the ideal size.
"But I haven't discussed this with the other two commissioners," he said. "They may have some other ideas."