LETTER: Listening Tour

Martha Pint/Wichita

To the editor:

The League of Women Voters of Kansas expressed disappointment with the recent release of the Kansas House and Senate Redistricting Committees’ Listening Tour scheduled for Aug. 9-13. The scheduled Listening Tour is in preparation for the 2022 round of redistricting. 

We’re disappointed that the Legislative Redistricting Committees released the Listening Tour on short notice and that it will be conducted in a single week. We’re also concerned the Listening Tour is being held prior to the Census Bureau’s release of the detailed population counts that are needed to draw new districts.

In contrast, the hearing schedule in 2011 covered the same 14 cities from July to October.

The League is committed to ensuring that district maps at all levels are drawn fairly and accurately, with the concerns of all Kansans considered and equitably represented. Rushing through this preliminary process just days before receiving Census data and without adopting unbiased redistricting guidelines guarantees that the public’s testimony can be easily ignored by the committees.

The Census Bureau has announced that results from the 2020 Census for use in redistricting will be available Aug. 16. A decade ago, only two redistricting hearings were held prior to the Legislature and the public having a complete set of population figures. The League urges the committees to reconsider this rushed hearing schedule. Kansans deserve an opportunity to study the Census results for their communities in the context of the committees’ guidelines and then engage the committees in meaningful conversations about the composition of new districts.

In addition to holding the hearings prior to receipt of 2020 Census data, the legislative committees charged with redistricting have not adopted guidelines and criteria for districts that will be the basis for representation for the next decade. Redistricting committees in Kansas have traditionally adopted guidelines and criteria for legislative and congressional districts. While non-binding, the guidelines and criteria serve the purpose of giving legislators and other Kansans a means by which to evaluate and compare the merits of competing proposals for district maps. Without guidelines, Kansans’ testimony and information provided to the committees during the hearings will lack essential framework. 

The League continues to encourage the redistricting committees to eliminate from the redistricting process any practices aimed at protecting incumbent legislators and taking partisan factors into consideration.  During the League’s many decades of active involvement in redistricting in Kansas, it has consistently maintained that partisan bias has no proper place in creation of new representative districts.

Hearings on the tour will be held in Wichita, Hutchinson, Salina, Manhattan, Chanute, Pittsburg, Lawrence, Overland Park, Kansas City, Leavenworth, Dodge City, Garden City, Colby and Hays.

Martha Pint is the co-president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas.

– Martha Pint/Wichita