ELECTION GUIDE: Douglas County voters will decide whether to increase County Commission from 3 members to 5

photo by: Kim Callahan/Journal-World

The Douglas County Elections Office on West 23rd Street is pictured on July 13, 2022.

Douglas County voters will decide whether to add two more County Commission districts in the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.

The ballot language is fairly straightforward — “Shall the Governing Body of Douglas County, Kansas, increase its number of commissioner districts from three to five?” A “yes” vote would approve adding the two new districts, while a “no” vote would keep the current three-member commission as is.

As it stands, each commissioner on the three-member body represents around 42,000 constituents. Expanding the commission to five members would cut that number down to around 25,000 per commissioner. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew told the Journal-World that if the measure is approved, a map has to be drawn and the Douglas County Commission has to adopt the new districts prior to Jan. 1, 2023.

“What usually happens — Leavenworth (County) just went through this a few years ago — is the county commission will maybe put together some public information meetings, maybe pull in a committee of some interested parties to help formulate that map,” Shew said. “Then, once the map is adopted, it goes to the governor.”

From there, Shew said the process for selecting commissioners for the two newly created districts would likely involve holding a special election, and the people elected would only serve until the next general election in 2024. They’d then be up for election again for the remainder of their seat’s term, which would run through 2026.

Shew said the chairs of the county’s Republican and Democratic parties will have to call conventions between 15 and 25 days from when a special election is called in order to select a candidate. Independent candidates would also be eligible to run, as long as they submit a petition of no less than 5% of the qualified electors in the new district. All of those candidates have to live in the new district they’re running to represent, and only voters in either of the new districts will vote in the special election.

What expanding the commission wouldn’t do, though, is guarantee broader representation from folks who live outside Lawrence. That’s because the districts must have equal populations. Around 85% of the county’s population lives in Lawrence, Shew said, so it would be mathematically impossible to draw something like three completely rural districts and two located entirely within Lawrence, for example.

“The map just doesn’t work,” Shew said.

Shew said a new map could be split in a variety of ways, however, as long as the districts are roughly equal in size, compact and contiguous. An all-rural district that contains all the communities outside of Lawrence — which would look something like a doughnut on a map — could be possible, Shew said, but that would mean the other four districts would have to be within Lawrence based on population.

Another possible option could look something like the spokes of a wheel, with every commission district extending out from Lawrence to take in communities like Eudora and Baldwin City.

But don’t count on seeing either of those examples, or any other map mock-ups for that matter, as samples before the election. Shew said that when voters were deliberating on whether to adopt new commission districts in Leavenworth County, sample maps were presented as examples ahead of the vote. That left voters confused and thinking that they were voting on the maps themselves, rather than adding commission districts. On top of that, the map that county ultimately ended up adopting wasn’t one that had been floated, and Shew said that led to some blowback from members of the public.

“I know this commission had talked about this last spring, does it do more harm to float a map or do you just ask the question?” Shew said. “I think they made the decision to just ask the question and not kind of confuse the issue, because there really is multiple ways you could draw those five districts.”

That’s why Shew said he thinks it’ll be important for there to be some public information meetings in Douglas County if voters approve the measure. He said he’s recommended to commissioners that they bring in stakeholders from around the county to help inform the process.

Shew said folks who want to take a look at a sample ballot can visit the Douglas County elections web page. There, they can click the “Voter Registration Search” button near the top of the page, enter their name and birth date, and find a PDF version of the ballot for their district.

Shew encouraged Douglas County voters to take a look at the ballot ahead of the election, given that it’s a much longer one than the ballot from the Aug. 2 primary election. The commission question is also tucked away as the last thing on the back of that ballot, and Shew said he didn’t want voters to miss it.

The last day to register to vote for the Nov. 8 general election is Tuesday, Oct. 18. Advance voting by mail and in person at the Douglas County Elections Office, 711 W. 23rd St., begins the next day on Oct. 19 and closes at noon on Monday, Nov. 7. The deadline to request an advance ballot via the mail is Tuesday, Nov. 1. Visit the Douglas County elections web page for an advance voting schedule, including hours of operation and additional early voting locations.


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