Kansas redistricting committees add more meeting dates around Thanksgiving after criticism of schedule

Jason Tidd Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Census Bureau data shows most Kansas counties lost population in the last decade.

Kansas legislators are going to spend more time listening to the public after criticism of prior redistricting committee hearing schedules.

The House and Senate redistricting committees will have virtual town hall meetings on the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving, as well as the Monday and Tuesday after the holiday. Politicians are tasked with redrawing political maps based on new population counts, and the town halls are supposed to help inform that process.

Democrats and nonpartisan voter advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters, claimed that cramming 14 statewide meetings into one week in August didn't create a fair and transparent opportunity for voter participation. Republican leadership disagreed but promised to hold more meetings later.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said she was pleased the announcement gave residents lead time before the hearings took place but noted their timing — around the Thanksgiving holiday — could lead to them getting lost in the shuffle.

More:'Kansas voters deserve a fair, transparent redistricting process': Democrats critical of town hall schedule

She also advocated for a committee charged with forming the criteria used in drawing maps to meet before the second round of meetings.

"I think this is really important, as people are coming to give their input, that they know what we're looking for," Sykes told reporters Tuesday.

'No matter what we do, it's open to criticism'

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said he was pleased with the end product and argued there would have been some disgruntled residents no matter what form or schedule was agreed to.

"No matter what we do, it's open to criticism," Masterson said. "No matter how we would have handled it, what days and when, you would have found complaints in some manner."

Kansas Legislative Research Department staff announced the virtual meeting schedule in a Tuesday news release. The meetings are all from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and organized by congressional district.

The Nov. 22 meeting is geared toward the 2nd Congressional District, with locations at Atchison, Native American reservations, Ottawa and Independence.

The Nov. 23 meeting for the 1st Congressional District has locations in Emporia, Great Bend, Liberal and McPherson.

The Nov. 29 meeting for the 4th Congressional District has locations in Newton and El Dorado.

The Nov. 30 meeting for the 3rd Congressional District has locations in Stilwell and Bonner Springs.

"Committee members will attend virtually," Kansas Legislative Research Department staff said in a Tuesday news release. "Conferees may provide testimony virtually.

"There will be locations in cities across the state for conferees to provide oral comments to the Committees. Each location will have audio and visual equipment for conferees to provide oral testimony. All meetings and oral testimony will be livestreamed online. There will also be an opportunity to submit written comments to the Committees."

People who want to testify must contact the Legislative Research Department, either by emailing redistricting@klrd.ks.gov or calling 785-296-3181.

"The Co-chairpersons have asked conferees to provide comments about unique items for Committee members to consider when drawing the state House, state Senate, and congressional districts," legislative staff said.

More:Packed week of Kansas redistricting town halls kicks off absent Census data. Here's what participants are saying.

Most of the earlier town halls were prior to Census data release

The Republican-led House and Senate redistricting committees held joint meetings during a listening tour in August. Most of those 14 town halls were held before the U.S. Census Bureau released redistricting data.

The 2020 Census data showed much of rural Kansas lost population over the past decade while most metropolitan areas grew and the state became more racially and ethnically diverse. The state population was 2,937,880.

Political maps must be redrawn based on the new population counts in order to create districts with roughly the same number of people.

More:Rural Kansas is losing population while metro areas see political power growth, census redistricting data shows

The four congressional districts each need about 734,470 people, while the 40 state Senate districts should have about 73,447 people and the 125 state House districts should have about 23,503 people.