Douglas County voters approve expanding the Douglas County Commission from 3 members to 5

photo by: Journal-World

The west side of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 23, 2021.

In Tuesday’s general election, Douglas County voted to add two more County Commission districts, increasing the size of the county’s governing body from three seats to five.

As of 9:45 p.m. Tuesday with about 60% of precincts reporting, 18,631 votes were in favor of the ballot question, good for 61.17% of the vote. The change will cut the number of constituents that one commissioner represents from around 42,000 to around 25,000.

With the vote, the next step will be drawing a new district map. The commission will have to adopt the new districts prior to Jan. 1, 2023. From there, selecting commissioners for the two newly created districts would likely involve holding a special election, with the winners serving until the next general election in 2024.

But the process of drawing the new map likely won’t be a straightforward one, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told the Journal-World last month ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Proponents of the ballot measure touted it as a way to encourage broader representation from folks who live outside Lawrence. However, Shew said expanding the commission couldn’t guarantee that because the districts must have equal populations. Around 85% of the county’s population lives in Lawrence, so Shew said it would be mathematically impossible to draw something such as three completely rural districts and two located entirely within Lawrence, for example.

Shew told the Journal-World last month that he’s recommended to commissioners that they host some public information meetings in Douglas County if the measure’s approved, and that the commission should bring in stakeholders from around the county to help inform that process.

Courtney Sappington, a resident who’s been involved with a group called the 5 Member Commission Committee, told the Journal-World Tuesday night that the group appreciated that voters approved the expansion.

“I think we’re pretty excited, and it would be just great to have that representation,” Sappington said. “… I think it would just go a long way towards bridging that gap between the rural and urban communication, because those issues look different, those priorities look different.”

Sappington said she and others are hoping to see some first examples of new maps that show “sufficient representation” for rural residents.

District 1 Douglas County Commissioner Patrick Kelly, who won reelection Tuesday night, told the Journal-World the commission would like to get some maps out there and begin gathering public feedback.

“I think we’re going to want to go out into the community away from downtown Lawrence and maybe into some other spaces,” Kelly said.


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