County adjusts voting districts

Without even filling out a single ballot, more than 7,000 registered voters soon will find themselves with a new elected representative.

And it’s only the beginning.

Douglas County commissioners voted Wednesday to adjust boundaries of their three commission districts, moving to accommodate a decade of population changes reflected in the 2010 Census. The plan comes as state lawmakers prepare to start redrawing districts for legislators and members of Congress, which could affect representation for thousands of county residents.

“We hope that is sooner rather than later,” said Jamie Shew, Douglas County clerk. “You guys are quite a bit ahead of the Legislature.”

The county’s own boundary changes came on a 2-1 vote, with Democrats Mike Gaughan and Nancy Thellman backing a plan that gives Gaughan’s district more of northwestern and southwestern Lawrence and expands Thellman’s district into eastern Lawrence.

The new boundaries tend to follow major streets and neighborhood boundaries, Gaughan said, while each district now has between 36,900 and 36,999 residents.

“Each district is almost identical,” said Gaughan, elected earlier in the meeting by his colleagues to serve as commission chairman for the coming year.

Commissioner Jim Flory, a Republican, opposed the boundary changes. His preferred plan called for shifting only two precincts, moving some voters living southwest of 15th and Iowa streets from his district into Gaughan’s.

Under Flory’s plan, Thellman’s district wouldn’t change at all because it already was within 69 residents of having the 36,942 deemed optimal by the Census.

“It’s just about as simple as it can get,” said Flory, whose seat will be up for election in November. “It’s the simplest, most straightforward and least disruptive.”

Commissioners serve the county at large, overseeing a $67.7 million annual budget that finances services including law enforcement, zoning, and road construction and maintenance. But they are elected by districts, which are to be evenly divided by population.

Here’s a look at the changes and how they change the math leading into the November election:

• Gaughan’s 1st District will gain 3,275 Lawrence residents in precincts voting at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Manor and a portion of those voting at Free State High School, including dozens living near his home in northwest Lawrence, while losing residents in two precincts in east Lawrence.

Gaughan, who won a four-year term in the 2010 election, gains 2,408 registered voters, including 613 Democrats, 1,068 Republicans and 731 who are unaffiliated. His district, which is entirely within the city of Lawrence, will be 38.8 percent Democrat, down from 40.2 percent, and 24.1 percent Republican, up from 21.9 percent.

• Thellman, whose 2nd District seat will be up for election in December, will add residents in precincts voting at New York School and Trinity Lutheran Church; she will lose residents living in the precinct that votes at Schwegler School. Net gain: 126 residents.

Her district, which includes North Lawrence, Baldwin City and Eudora, will gain 722 registered voters, including the addition of 455 Democrats, loss of 15 Republicans and addition of 268 people who are unaffiliated. Her district will be 34.7 percent Democrat, up from 33.9 percent, and 28.3 percent Republican, down from 29.2 percent.

• Flory’s 3rd District, which covers western Douglas County, Lecompton and portions of southwest Lawrence, will lose 3,401 residents, all of them in precincts going to Gaughan in northwest and southwest Lawrence.

Flory’s district will lose 3,130 registered voters, including 1,068 Democrats, 1,053 Republicans and 999 who are unaffiliated. His district will be 35.2 percent Republican, up from 35 percent, and 31.6 percent Democrat, down from 31.9 percent.

Commissioners approved the changes on a preliminary basis. Documents now will be prepared for formal approval within the coming weeks.