Constitutional amendment could mean increased representation in Legislature for Douglas County

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Kansas Statehouse in Topeka

Douglas County could gain more representation in the Legislature if a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution is approved by voters on Nov. 5.

The amendment would end Kansas’ practice of adjusting official U.S. Census numbers to eliminate nonresident college students and military personnel. In the past, the secretary of state’s office has contacted every college student and military member residing in Kansas to ask where they want their official residence to be counted, a practice the secretary of state calls expensive and time consuming.

If the amendment is approved, students and military personnel would be included in the Kansas census as living in the city where they resided on April 1. For Douglas County, that would mean a significant increase in population, with the possibility of increased representation when new district lines are drawn.

“It’s a matter of density,” said Sen. Marci Francisco, of Lawrence, who represents District 2, which includes parts of Douglas and Jefferson counties.

Francisco said in a phone interview that if the amendment were passed, the size of her district would likely contract. Each district is supposed to have the same number of residents.

Typically, Kansas House of Representatives districts cover 22,000 people, Kansas Senate districts cover 72,000 people, and congressional districts cover 700,000 people, said Katie Koupal, spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

“Federal law prohibits the use of adjusted numbers for reapportionment of congressional seats,” Koupal said. “Eliminating the adjustment would simply result in congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts being drawn using U.S. Census numbers.”

Koupal said the question of whether Douglas County could see increased representation is “a question for the Legislature to determine, as they are responsible for reapportionment.”

If Douglas County’s population increases, and representatives across the state must oversee an equal number of citizens, then it can be expected that surrounding districts would have to expand into parts of Douglas County, resulting in increased representation.

In 2010, Douglas County was the second county most affected by census adjustments in Kansas, with the population changing from 110,826 to 98,665, a 10.97% decrease. Riley County, where Kansas State University and the U.S. Army’s Fort Riley base are located, saw a 15.49% decrease in population.

In all, about 13,000 people were subtracted from the U.S. Census bureau numbers for the state of Kansas as part of the 2010 population adjustment, Koupal said. This 13,000 accounts for students and military personnel who labeled a different state as their official residence, while the over 12,000 population change for Douglas County alone accounts for those who labeled another state or another county in Kansas as their official residence.

“I would like to have House, Senate and State Board of Education districts that better reflect the number of residents residing in them,” Francisco wrote in a news release, noting that she would be voting yes on the amendment in the upcoming election.

In the Senate, the constitutional amendment was unanimously passed 40-0. In the House of Representatives, it passed 117-7.

The redrawing of district lines is likely the reason some representatives voted against the amendment change, Francisco said. Districts in more rural parts of Kansas could expand, and “it’s not helpful to anybody to have a really large district,” she said. It makes it harder for citizens to know their representatives and be able to attend forums.

In an informational card from Secretary of State Scott Schwab, Schwab calls the practice of adjusting census numbers “burdensome, antiquated and expensive.” He writes that Kansas is the only state in the nation that continues to adjust its census numbers and that the practice of doing so is estimated to cost $835,000 in 2020.

In ex-Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s 2011 “Adjustment to the U.S. Decennial Census” report, however, it is stated that the adjustment then only cost $198,927.

“Previous secretaries have hired a program manager and temporary employees to process questionnaires and conduct follow-up contacts to obtain accurate data,” Koupal said. “The office is not equipped to execute the adjustment with existing staff resources. The cost is based on estimates from vendors who we could contract with to help execute the adjustment should the amendment not pass. With an increasing number of Kansans no longer using land-line telephones, we anticipate to execute the adjustment in an accurate manner will be significantly more costly and time consuming than in previous years.”

The proposed amendment to the Constitution is the only statewide question before voters this fall.

Rep. Dennis “Boog” Highberger, of Lawrence, called the amendment “pretty straightforward” and said he thought it would pass “very easily.”

“I think it would be more fair to university towns like Lawrence because students are almost full-time residents, and it does affect actual population,” he said.

Gov. Laura Kelly also supports amending the constitution.

“The governor knows a lot is at stake when it comes to the upcoming census, so it’s critical we have a complete, accurate count,” said Lauren Fitzgerald, Kelly’s spokeswoman. “This constitutional amendment will simplify the way we count people and will cut down on administrative costs.”


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