Kansas is the only state in the nation that attempts to adjust the U.S. Census by statistically sending students and military personnel who are living in one Kansas community back to their “home” communities in Kansas or out of state.
Sometimes it’s fine to be different. This is not one of them.
The impact of this census “adjustment” is highlighted every 10 years when state lawmakers are preparing to redraw congressional and legislative districts. Although the populations in congressional districts are equalized using federal census figures, legislative districts are redrawn using the adjusted figures that carve out students and military personnel.
The big losers in this process, of course, are communities that are home to large universities like Kansas University and Kansas State University. Douglas County takes a big hit in the adjustment game, but Riley County gets a double whammy because it is the home of both Kansas State University and Fort Riley. Douglas County lost about 11 percent of its population in the adjustment, and Riley lost about 15.5 percent.
The roots of the adjustment go back to the state’s old “agricultural census,” which was separate from the federal census and conducted by the Kansas Board of Agriculture. When the constitutional amendment was passed abolishing the separate state census in the 1980s, lawmakers still thought it was necessary to try to move college students and military personnel back to their “permanent” residence, so the adjustment process was born.
The Kansas Secretary of State’s recent report on the recount noted various attempts to minimize the expense of the process, but it still cost the state about $200,000. It also doesn’t include the expense to Kansas colleges and military installations that must help facilitate the process.
If there was a good reason to conduct the recount, that cost might be justified, but the whole process is more of an historical anomaly than a useful tool. If students are living in a university community for nine months or more out of the year, they should be counted as residents of that community.
That is the community where they not only live but probably also vote. That means that even though they have declared themselves “permanent” residents of another community, they are voting for state senators and representatives in the district in which they really live. It also means that legislators in those districts actually represent considerably more people than the census reflects.
The census adjustments probably help rural areas of the state shore up their population figures, but there is a question of fairness. The adjustments also simply remove many students and military personnel from the state altogether. The state’s total adjusted population in 2010 was 13,673 lower than the federal census figures. Whoever those people are, they apparently don’t deserve representation in Kansas state government.
Whatever purpose this process was intended to serve, Kansas is the only state that thinks it is necessary. The state should look at the cost and fairness of its census adjustments and think about making a change.