Govenor Laura Kelly talking to constituents
Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law three new electoral maps, but vetoed one that redraws the state’s congressional districts. That map is now embroiled in a legal fight likely to end up at the Kansas Supreme Court. (Courtesy photo/Kansas Office of the Governor)

Update: On April 25, Wyandotte County District Judge Bill Klapper ruled that a map setting new boundaries for the state’s four congressional districts is unconstitutional. The decision is likely to be appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court.

How will you be represented in the Kansas Legislature for the next decade? It comes down to maps. Several of them.

On April 15, Gov. Laura Kelly signed three new redistricting maps, sending them to the Kansas Supreme Court for final approval. The maps set boundaries for the state House, state Senate and Kansas State Board of Education districts. 

A fourth map — Senate Bill 355 and called Ad Astra 2 — sets boundaries for the state’s four congressional districts. 

Kelly vetoed that proposal in February, lawmakers quickly overrode her objections, and the map ended up at the center of a weeklong trial in Wyandotte County District Court. A decision is expected this week and will likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court. 

“The process of drawing districts each decade is the core to ensuring that all Kansans have the opportunity to participate in their government and have their voices heard,” Kelly said in vetoing the congressional map. “The courts and the legislature have established case law and criteria on how to draw Kansas districts fairly and constitutionally.”

It’s all part of a once-in-a-decade exercise in democracy in which the three branches of state government come together to determine how Kansans will be represented by state and federal elected officials. The high-stakes, yearslong process creates maps that will shape the state’s political landscape for 10 years.

Why is there redistricting and how does it work? The Wichita Beacon put together a primer on how the process plays out in Kansas.

It starts with the census

The redistricting process started with the 2020 census. Before the population can be divided into districts, lawmakers need to know how many of us there are and where we live. Everyone is counted — citizens, noncitizens and those ineligible to vote. The census is a constitutionally mandated count of the population that has occurred every 10 years, without fail, since 1790. 

After census results are reported, apportionment begins. That process determines how many representatives each state may send to Congress for the next decade, using a formula decided upon by Congress. Each of the 435 congressional districts should be roughly equal in population. 

Population data gathered during the census is divided by the Census Bureau into census blocks, which are statistical areas drawn every 10 years using landmarks or invisible boundaries like rivers, streets or property lines. That data was delivered to each state in August 2021. 

In the past 10 years, Kansas’ population grew nearly 3%, compared to over 7% for the nation as a whole. Most of Kansas’ growth was concentrated in urban counties in northeast Kansas and Sedgwick County. 

Redistricting allows new district boundaries to be drawn to reflect these changes.

How districts are drawn

Each state has its own process to draw electoral maps. In most states, like Kansas, the legislature draws maps, often in committee. In Kansas, the public may also submit maps for consideration with the support and sponsorship from a lawmaker.

In eight states, independent commissions draw congressional districts, a process advocates say protects against practices like gerrymandering. Three states use politically appointed commissions to draw congressional maps. Six states don’t draw congressional maps at all, because the population is so small they were apportioned only one representative. 

After passing through the Kansas Legislature, electoral maps must be approved by the governor. If the governor vetoes a map — as Kelly did with the congressional map in February — the legislature can override the veto, as it did within a week of the veto. 

After being signed by the governor, state legislative maps must be approved by the state Supreme Court. The court is not required to weigh in on congressional or state Board of Education maps unless someone sues to challenge them. After the maps are signed by the governor, the state attorney general has 15 days to send the maps to the court, which then has 30 days to determine the validity of the maps. 

If the court disapproves of a map, it will send it back to the legislature, which has 15 days to revise it. The attorney general will then send it back to the court, which has 10 days to respond. 

If for some reason — say, intractable disagreements between lawmakers — maps do not progress through the normal approval process, outside intervention is possible. In 2012, the legislature could not reach agreement on any of the four electoral maps, and a federal court drew all of the maps that are currently in use. 

What if a map isn’t fair?

Two maps, including one signed by Kelly, have raised concerns over how equitably communities are divided.

Activists representing community members from Wyandotte County and Lawrence say that the congressional Ad Astra 2 map violates state constitutional protections preventing partisan gerrymandering that would divide the voting impact of ethnic and political minority communities. They also argue it weakens the electoral position of Rep. Sharice Davids, the state’s only Democratic, woman and nonwhite congressional representative. Three lawsuits were filed after the legislature enacted the map by overriding Kelly’s veto. 

The case marks the first time that a gerrymandering case has been brought under state law in Kansas. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering claims fall outside the reach of federal courts. 

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said that there is no precedent for a lawsuit of this kind in Kansas and that the suit falls outside the jurisdiction of the state of Kansas. 

The state Board of Education map drew attention this year when the districts were drawn in a way that Republican leaders hope pushes the board to the right. The board sets school curriculum guidelines for the state. Lawmakers routinely wade into education issues during the legislative session. 

The BOE map was sent to Kelly in a single bill, SB 563, with the two state legislature maps. Kelly signed all three. 

Some lawmakers drawn out of a job

In a handful of districts across Kansas, boundaries were redrawn in a way that absorbed the residence of a neighboring lawmaker and could force two incumbent lawmakers to run against each other. 

The changes reflect how the population of Kansas has changed over the past decade. Three of the five lawmakers drawn out of a job will be from rural central and western parts of Kansas. The five districts with no incumbent, which will need new lawmakers to fill them, are all in the growing northeast corner of the state.

The House redistricting plan, Freestate 3F, forces three pairs of Republican incumbents against each other this fall, opening up three seats for election: The future 30th and 78th districts in Johnson County, and the 117th, which will straddle Johnson and Douglas counties. 

In the Senate, redistricting plan Liberty 3 forces two pairs of incumbents against each other, leaving two seats up for grabs in the next Senate election in November 2024. Senate Vice President Rick Wilborn, a Republican from McPherson, will be drawn out of his seat in the 35th District and into the 14th, currently held by Sen. Michael Fagg, an El Dorado Republican. The new district will border Sedgwick County to the northeast. 

The newly redrawn 35th District will be in Johnson County, while the new 19th will straddle Douglas and Shawnee counties.

See if your districts will change

U.S. House of Representatives, Ad Astra 2: Each of Kansas’ four proposed congressional districts was drawn to match the ideal district population determined by the map’s authors — 734,470 people — even though the law allows for small variation in population numbers between districts. Please note that this map is likely to change, pending the outcome of the ongoing lawsuit.

For each of the maps, the shaded portion shows the 2012 district boundaries, while the red lines show the 2022 district boundaries.

Kansas House of Representatives, Freestate 3F: The state House is divided into 125 districts with the population ranging from 22,577 to 24,346, roughly 3% above and below the goal population of 23,503.

Kansas Senate, Liberty 3: The state Senate is divided into 40 districts with populations ranging between 70,949 to 76,345, which is less than 4% off from the goal population for Senate districts of 73,477.

Kansas State Board of Education, Apple 7: Each of the state board of education’s 10 districts contains 289,872 to 295,512 people, within 2% of the goal population of 293,788.

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Miranda Moore covers the Kansas Statehouse and state government for The Wichita Beacon. Follow her on Twitter @Miranda_Writes1.