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Araceli Amador is concerned about Sedgwick County’s redistricting process.
She’s worried that her community, largely made up of Spanish speakers in southwest Wichita, has not been sufficiently included in the county’s redistricting efforts. The process began in the fall and concludes with a vote on the final maps Wednesday. The result will be new boundaries for the five Sedgwick County Commission districts.
“In Spanish, I haven’t heard anything about this,” Amador said.
What is redistricting?
Redistricting is the process of adjusting the borders of political districts to account for a growing and changing population. Sedgwick County is required to redistrict every 10 years, with the release of census data, but can choose to redistrict more often. The goal of redistricting is to ensure that each political district — in this case, each Sedgwick County Commission district — is made up of roughly the same number of people, about 104,765. To learn more about the redistricting process and the proposed maps, visit Sedgwick County’s page on redistricting.
The Hispanic population in Sedgwick County increased by 28% between 2010 and 2020 — one of the most significant demographic changes unearthed by the recently released 2020 census data. At 16% of the population, Hispanic residents are also the largest minority group in the county.
Yet some Hispanic residents said the redistricting process has not included them.
“When we think about minority communities we have to take the Latino population into consideration as it is the largest minority group in the county,” County Commissioner Sarah Lopez, the county’s first Hispanic commissioner, wrote in an email to The Wichita Beacon. “It hasn’t gotten the focus and attention it should.”
Eleven new county commission maps have been proposed, and a bipartisan redistricting committee has narrowed these down to one recommended map — map 6. This map makes very minor changes to the distribution of the Hispanic population throughout the five County Commission districts, with the biggest change being a 1 percentage-point increase in the Hispanic population in District 2.
The County Commission is not required to accept the committee’s recommendation.
How the redistricting plans impact Hispanic residents
Wichita’s historic North End is the city’s predominantly Hispanic community, encompassing parts of the El Pueblo, Midtown and Benjamin Hills neighborhoods.
“As a Wichitan that’s grown up here, this is my neighborhood,” said Martin Garcia, who unsuccessfully ran for the City Council District 6 seat in August.
His family came to Wichita from Mexico. To him, Garcia said, the North End runs north of 13th Street, with I-135 bounding it to the east, up to 53rd Street on the north.
Many factors can be taken into consideration when drawing new districts, including population equivalency and compactness. Another is “areas of common interest,” which could include social, cultural, racial, ethnic and economic interests common to a geographic area.
“Community and community of interest is difficult to define,” Sedgwick County GIS Director Jack Joseph said at a Nov. 1 redistricting committee meeting. “The people that live in that community are the ones that can define that community.”
Brian Amos, an assistant professor in Wichita State University’s political science department, said it does not appear that any of the maps significantly split up the primarily Hispanic North End. The boundaries of the area are informal, he added.
Garcia noted that the North End is tied together by more than just ethnicity.
“We have a lot in common,” Garcia said. “We’re all working class. Everyone kind of lives paycheck to paycheck. A lot of folks are alarmed by the inflation going on right now. We all have common interests that transcend color.”
Many residents did express concern that maps 3 and 4 moved Riverside and part of the Indian Hills neighborhood out of District 4, where the North End is, into District 2, which covers much of South Wichita. Several people said the two neighborhoods are intimately connected to the North End.
“Having lived at this address since 1979 and being active in the neighborhood (Riverside) our allegiance and commonality is to the North end,” Doug Ballard wrote in a public comment to the redistricting committee. “Riverside, North Riverside, Indian Hills, and Midtown have a special relationship and have for decades and to split them up would be detrimental to these neighborhoods.”
Keeping communities of interest together is also a way to avoid diluting the impact of their vote, said Audé Negrete, executive director of the Kansas Hispanic & Latino American Affairs Commission.
But Hispanic residents aren’t just in the North End. While District 4 has the largest Hispanic population at 24%, the Hispanic population reaches at least 15% in Districts 2 and 5.
“The Latino/Hispanic population is much more spread out throughout the county,” Casey Yingling, a member of the Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee, wrote in an email to The Beacon. “Ideally to increase the voice of any group, you want a significant population in a couple of districts versus packing everyone into one district or cracking them among all five districts to minimize their influence.”
Yingling said the only map that reached that threshold was map 5. It increased Hispanic residents to 20% in District 2 and 28% in District 4.
“This kind of map would have given a strong voice to Latinos in two districts instead of diluted equally among four of the districts and a large chunk in District 4,” Yingling wrote.
But map 5 was one of the first plans the Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee voted to remove from consideration, over concerns that it would disenfranchise 54,833 residents, about 10% of whom are Black.
Hispanic residents call for greater inclusion in redistricting
Several Hispanic residents, including Amador, said they were concerned with the lack of community engagement during redistricting, particularly with the lack of Spanish-language communication.
“Is it distributed in different languages?” said Yeni Telles, a community organizer with Sunflower Community Action, a Wichita nonprofit focused on social justice issues. “Is it being distributed in a language that we can understand? Like, a fifth-grade level?”
The county did not distribute redistricting information in Spanish, according to Sedgwick County Community Relations Specialist Nicole Gibbs.
Negrete and Stacey Knoell, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Coalition, said that best practices for including communities of color in the redistricting process are to hold multiple town hall meetings, provide Spanish-language interpreters and provide “community of interest” forms. These allow individuals to submit comments describing their community and its geographic location.
“It’s thinking about the barriers that prevent communities from participating in the process and ensuring that those barriers are being addressed to ensure that communities of color are not being redistricted out of the process,” Negrete said.
Sedgwick County held one town hall meeting for the public to comment on the redistricting plans. No Spanish-language translator was provided.
Residents can also provide written comments about the proposed maps on Sedgwick County’s website.
“There was no directive for the public to generate maps for this committee but the committee would take public input,” Gibbs wrote in an email to The Beacon.