There will be a proposed constitutional amendment on your November ballot. This is an opportunity for you to vote yes and make sure that every resident in Leavenworth County who is counted in the federal census is also counted in the Kansas census. Believe it or not, Article 10, Section 1 of the Kansas Constitution requires the Kansas secretary of state “To exclude nonresident military personnel stationed within the state and nonresident students attending colleges and universities within the state; and (2) to include military personnel stationed within the state who are residents of the state and students attending colleges and universities within the state who are residents of the state in the district of their permanent residence.”
This provision was passed in 1988 and required every state census since 1990 to include a process of “uncounting” college students and military personnel.
Why is the census important? The population count is used by the state to determine how many seats/votes our community has in the Kansas House and Senate as well as on the State Board of Education. It also is used to determine the amount of state funding for roads and schools and such. If Leavenworth County appears to have less population because we have people who are subtracted from our count, it impacts our share of state support, our voice in state decision-making and, therefore, our quality of life.
The Kansas Department of Commerce estimates that it costs $2,082 per year for every person not counted. So, if 1,000 military were “uncounted” in 2000, our county lost $15.4 million during the last decade.
Kansas is the only state in the nation that “adjusts” the federal census by “uncounting” college students and military personnel. In 1988, the rural areas of the state were alarmed about losing representation in the state Legislature. They wanted to count their college students at home. Also, students and military personnel tended to be concentrated in “blue” areas of the state like Lawrence, Pittsburg and Manhattan. Weakening these areas by decreasing count in the state census would decrease the state representation in areas where more Democrats might be elected.
The Kansas Constitution goes on to require that the secretary of state “move” those military families and students back to their “home” areas. That was thought to increase the representation in suburban and rural districts where college students’ parents lived and, at the same time, completely “uncounting” the population of Fort Leavenworth, Fort Riley and McConnell Air Force Base. It is interesting that, if the idea was to eliminate all the out of state people residing in Kansas or move people to where they resided, any prisoners (like at LCF, USP, CCA and the DB) would have been “uncounted” as well. But no. While the attempt is made to exclude soldiers from the state census, every incarcerated prisoner is counted. Nobody tried to move them back to their home of record. Go figure.
The impact of the “uncount” is more than political, however. Public and private universities, colleges, community colleges, vocational schools and military officials are required to fill out forms about the residential status of all the students and military families. There is even a criminal penalty for interfering with the “adjustment” of the federal census figures. The 2010 census reduced the Kansas population count by 13,673 statewide and crowds of Kansans were moved from where they were residing. Douglas County lost nearly 11% of its population as counted by the federal census and Riley County lost 15.5% of its count.
Over the past three federal census collections, the impact of the “uncount” has been costly. The secretary of state estimates that the upcoming “uncount” after the 2020 census will cost the state of Kansas $835,000 and hundreds of hours of state workers’ time. No other state intentionally discards all of the military residents and students in this way. The state census, as required now in the Kansas Constitution, dilutes your representation in the Kansas Legislature and our share of the state fiscal support because our military neighbors and college students are not taken into account as deserving representation.
The proposed amendment passed both Kansas House and Senate with bi-partisan super majorities. It is time to end this crazy way to mess with the federal census. Our politicians all agree that it is costly and silly. It is an insult to the military service members who are living among us. Vote yes to restore our neighbors into our state census numbers. Let’s bring Kansas back into the real democracy that exists everywhere else. Vote to put our Kansas Constitution back to the way it was before 1988, counting every citizen in our community as deserving of representation in the Kansas House, Senate and State Board of Education. Leavenworth County communities deserve your support for this fix.
Marti Crow is a Leavenworth Times columnist.