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Archive for Sunday, September 16, 2001

KU miscounts for census

September 16, 2001

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— Kansas University officials failed to subtract thousands of students when the state adjusted federal census figures, according to a report by the secretary of state.

The miscount will be felt in how the Legislature redraws state legislative district boundaries. It probably will mean more legislative clout for Douglas County at the expense of other areas of Kansas.

Douglas County will gain representation at the Statehouse after
reapportionment because Kansas University officials failed to
properly count students. From left, sophomore John Holmen, St.
Paul, Minn., senior Mike Schmitz, Holton, and junior Brett Olson,
Chanute, work on an assignment for a communications course that met
outside Friday.

Douglas County will gain representation at the Statehouse after reapportionment because Kansas University officials failed to properly count students. From left, sophomore John Holmen, St. Paul, Minn., senior Mike Schmitz, Holton, and junior Brett Olson, Chanute, work on an assignment for a communications course that met outside Friday.

But instead of criticizing KU, a lawmaker says the example shows how fruitless it is for the state to try to adjust the federal census.

"It's a symptom that accurately reflects the ridiculousness of the mathematical gymnastics that we as a state go through," said state Sen. David Adkins, a Leawood Republican.

And the gymnastics aren't cheap.

The cost to conduct the state-adjusted census was about $500,000, money that could have been spent better elsewhere, Adkins said.

Adkins is co-chairman of the redistricting committee that will use the adjusted state census to draw boundaries for the 165 state House and Senate districts. He wants to abolish the adjustment.

Kansas alone

Kansas is the only state in the nation whose constitution requires the Secretary of State's office to adjust the federal census.

The state adjustment redistributes college students and military personnel who are not permanent residents of the state, county or city where they were counted by the U.S. Census. It counts them in their permanent residence elsewhere.

For example, the federal census counts college students in their dormitories.

The Kansas adjustment allows students to be counted in their permanent residence if they don't consider their dorm room to be their home.

The readjustment is used as the population basis for state legislative districts. According to the state-adjusted census, the optimal size of a Senate district is 66,806 people. For a House district, the population is 21,378. In the past, courts have allowed a deviation of 5 percent, either more or less.

But in practice, the readjustment produces confusion and meaningless numbers, Adkins said.

Under the state law governing the adjustment, it is based solely on filling out a questionnaire and is self-reporting. There is little review of the accuracy of the filled-out questionnaires.

And there is no uniformity in how the adjustment is made.

For example, at Kansas State University in Manhattan, students enrolling online had to fill out the questionnaire as part of the application process.

At KU, there was no similar requirement, and the results are obvious.

KU, the larger school, returned 8,372 questionnaires; KSU returned 15,860.

The adjusted census figures showed the same disparity. Douglas County lost 4,431 people in the state census; Riley County, which is less populous to begin with, lost 13,246 people.

The KU numbers are even more dubious when compared with 1990. During that year, 22,365 questionnaires were returned, nearly three times the total from 2000.

More problems

The adjustments based on questionnaires from Kansas military bases are even more problematic, Adkins said.

For example, Fort Leavenworth officials refused to participate in the distribution and collection of the questionnaires, although they allowed the Secretary of State's office to conduct the tally.

Adkins said there could be prisoners in Leavenworth who were counted in the state census while the soldiers guarding them weren't.

The state census has its roots in an old law that allowed each Kansas county to collect its own population figures.

But with such wide discrepancies in the count, the state census adjustment should be done away with, said Adkins.

He said he would propose a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement. If the proposal is approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate, it could be placed before voters in the November 2002 election, he said.

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