In Kansas, requirement that census data be adjusted makes for unique redistricting process — and results
When the 2012 session of the Kansas Legislature adjourned last May, lawmakers left one important piece of business unfinished. Their inability to come to closure on the politically charged issue of redistricting left Kansas alone among the 50 states without a new set of maps going into this year’s congressional and legislative elections, and eventually forced a panel of federal district court judges to finish the job.
This year’s stalemate may have been unprecedented in the Sunflower State, but Kansas’ redistricting process is unique among Midwestern states in other ways as well. Like all other states, Kansas relies on U.S. Census Bureau data as a starting point in the decennial process of drawing new district lines.
But the Kansas Constitution requires that the population data provided by the federal government be adjusted before maps are drawn.
Under Article 10, Section 1, nonresident military personnel and nonresident students attending Kansas colleges and universities are not counted. In addition, military personnel and students who are residents of the state are counted in the districts of their permanent residence rather than where they are stationed or attending school.
This adjustment to the federal data is a throwback to an earlier era when Kansas conducted its own census and relied exclusively on its own data during the redistricting process.
From 1918 through 1979, Kansas counties collected population figures and submitted them to the state Department of Agriculture, which provided the statewide data used in redistricting. The residency rules used in the “Ag Census” required both the exclusion of nonresidents and the inclusion of residents at the place of their permanent residence.
The residency adjustments built into the Ag Census were actually broader than those that are used today. In addition to military personnel and students, the Ag Census attempted to account for the permanent residency of prisoners, nursing home residents and others.
Under a constitutional provision approved by voters in 1974, redistricting in Kansas became an end-of-the-decade process beginning in 1979 — the final year the Ag Census was used.
Ten years later, the redistricting process was based on a state census conducted by the secretary of state in 1988. The residency rules used that year were similar to those applied in the old Ag Census, which meant that adjustments were made to reflect the permanent residency of the population.
The current constitutional language, which paved the way for Kansas to begin using federal census data, was approved by voters in 1988 and used for the first time in 1992.
By retaining the customary residency requirements for military personnel and students, Kansas became the only state in the Midwest, and one of just a handful nationally, to require federal census data to be adjusted before redistricting begins. (In New York and Maryland, federal census data are adjusted to exclude nonresident prisoners and to reflect the permanent residence of inmates who resided in the state before being incarcerated.)
According to Corey Carnahan, principal analyst with the Kansas Legislative Research Department, the practical effect of the required adjustments in Kansas is a net reduction in the state’s total population for redistricting purposes and a redistribution of that total within the state.
Districts with large college campuses, for example, tend to see their population numbers decline; other areas where college students and military personnel reside permanently when not otherwise away on campus or on military duty tend to see their numbers increase.
Since its inception, the census adjustment has become standard operating procedure in Kansas. Carnahan says that efforts to modify or repeal the requirement have surfaced from time to time, but none has ever been approved by the Legislature.
Article written by Mike McCabe, director of the CSG Midwest Office. The Only in the Midwest series highlights unique features of state governments in the Midwest. Past articles are available at www.csgmidwest.org.