FAIRWAY — Kansas’ machinery for redrawing its electoral boundaries broke this year.
Few political observers, or politicians themselves, would disagree.
But even fewer would guess about how fast Kansas can fix the process or what changes, if any, state leaders will make to avoid problems later.
“Kansas’ constitution specifically requires the state Legislature to do only two things — balance the state budget and redistrict the state every 10 years,” said Johnson County Republican Chairman Ronnie Metsker. “And they didn’t finish redistricting. That’s pathetic.”
The state constitution notwithstanding, Kansas legislators this month ended a 99-day session, one of the longest in decades, without passing a new redistricting plan that would have adjusted for population shifts according to the most recent U.S. Census.
Now, a three-member panel of the U.S. District Court in Kansas is working on one that will be the first in state history not approved by legislators.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said June 8 is the last day before preparations will need to change for the state’s scheduled Aug. 7 primary. If no plan is produced by June 20, the primary election date will need to be set on Aug. 14, Kobach told the three judges in a hearing Wednesday.
The judges heard from advocates of a dozen proposed redistricting plans in a hearing Tuesday and Wednesday. No date has been set for a ruling, but “there is nothing on our docket which has higher attention at this point,” Chief Judge Kathryn Vratil, the panel’s head, said Wednesday.
So, when will Kansas candidates know for sure where they are running or which voters to woo?
“Getting good maps (of the new district boundaries) is a goal,” Loomis said. “Getting good maps in time is a secondary goal.”
So, what about next time?
Other states have met redistricting challenges by forming special redistricting commissions to draw the maps instead of leaving it to legislators, said Morgan Cullen, a policy analyst with the National Council of State Legislatures in Denver. The council is a bipartisan organization that serves state legislators.
Thirteen states turn over all their redistricting responsibility to the special commissions while 37, including Kansas, leave legislators in charge.
But some of those 37 also use special commissions, Cullen said. Iowa, Maine, New York and Vermont, for example, form advisory commissions to deal with detail work on the maps before they face legislative approval. Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island form backup commissions, which go to work if legislators miss deadlines, as Kansas lawmakers did.
“It’s our understanding that without some specific changes, like an amendment to the Kansas Constitution, this is the process we use,” said Kay Curtis, the Secretary of State’s communications officer.
But anything is possible, “especially after this experience, which is just miserable,” said Loomis. “This performance has added to the possibility (for less partisan redistricting) that I thought was very slim.”