Forty-nine states have completed the process of redrawing their congressional districts based on the 2010 U.S. Census.
One has not. That would be Kansas.
Heading into what is scheduled to be the last week of the 2012 session, the Kansas Legislature still is bickering about not only how to adjust the state’s four congressional districts, but also how to redraw legislative districts, a task also completed by the vast majority of states.
The politics of this situation have been extremely — perhaps unusually — difficult in Kansas this year, but the fact that redistricting delays are threatening to set back candidate filing deadlines and perhaps even the state’s primary elections is an indication that this system is broken. Redistricting in Kansas could end up in the courts for the first time since 1982.
During a recent visit to the Journal-World, Kansas Senate leaders noted that one reason Kansas lags behind other states is because it takes extra time to adjust U.S. Census figures for the state. Using questionnaires distributed at state universities and military bases, the state attempts to clerically return students and military personnel to their “permanent” residences to be counted.
According to Kansas redistricting officials, a few other states adjust their state census to remove inmates in state prisons, but Kansas is the only state that attempts to count students and military personnel in some location other than where they currently are living. This practice is a Kansas oddity that minimally reduces the population in university or military communities and minimally increases population in some rural counties. It costs the state money and should be eliminated.
That being said, the state census adjustment isn’t the only reason the Kansas redistricting process is broken. According to the Kansas Secretary of State’s office, there was only about a four-month gap between March 2011, when the state received the detailed federal census figures it needs for redistricting, and July 2011, when it released the adjusted state figures. Perhaps legislators could have gotten a slight head start on legislative redistricting if they had been able to use the federal figures, but given this year’s political climate, that might not have been enough to avoid the current redistricting train wreck.
The Kansas Senate leadership has pledged to try, before the end of the current session, to pass a constitutional amendment that would turn redistricting over to an independent bipartisan commission. It’s a measure Kansans would be more than happy to see on the November ballot.