OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — This week, Kansas lawmakers are touring the state, asking for feedback on how they’ll redraw the lines of legislative voting districts.
The redistricting joint committee will host 14 town hall-style listening sessions across the state from August 9-13. On Thursday, the committee stopped in Overland Park to hear from roughly 50 voters in the 3rd District.
Doug Smith lives in the 3rd District, which includes Johnson and Wyandotte counties. Smith said it’s difficult to express what the needs of the district are without time to go over the new census data, just released Thursday afternoon.
“It’s difficult to know what to say before the census data has been released. I or anyone can only speak in very general terms about our aspirations or our fears, thus thoughtful input is limited,” Smith said.
The new census data breaks down demographic characteristics by state, county and city, providing a detailed look at things like:
- Voting age population
- Race and ethnicity
- Vacant and occupied housing
- How many people live in communal settings like nursing homes, college dorms, military barracks and prisons
Tracy Osborn-Oltjen, president of the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the committee on the growth in Johnson County.
“Projections indicate that Johnson County has grown more than 10% in the last decade, leading many to believe that we are poised to gain at least three new House districts and at least one new Senate district,” Osborn-Oltjen said. “This increase in districts is appropriate to provide representation in a county that has been growing and will continue to do so.”
Ten years ago when the committee last held a town hall series on redistricting, community meetings were held over a longer period of time. With the listening tour compressed into a single week, voters like Matthew Calcara are worried their voices may not be heard in the process.
“Last time around, the committee heard testimony over a period of four months, with the full census data needed to draw new districts fully available,” Calcara said. “The majority party intends to create maps that put their interest ahead of the interests of Kansans who want to make their voices heard. Simply put, gerrymandering is cheating.”
Mike Swenson is a lifelong Kansan, currently living in Leawood. Swenson said he feels as the region continues growing, it’s important for Wyandotte and Johnson counties to remain connected in one congressional district.
“The 3rd District of Kansas is the most diverse district we have in Kansas. Fairness dictates that these diverse communities remain connected and represented by the same member of Congress, regardless of which political party they belong to,” Swenson said. “Splitting up Wyandotte and Johnson County would not be fair to us as residents here or in fact the rest of the state.”
If you are unable to attend one of the town halls, comments can be submitted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at KLRD 300 S.W. 10th Street, Room 68 West, Topeka, KS 66612.
The listening tour will continue Friday, with a town hall scheduled at the Riverfront Community Center in Leavenworth at 9 a.m. and a town hall at the Capitol Federal Hall at the University of Kansas in Lawrence at 1:30 p.m.