Population shifts in Kansas set up redistricting changes

Census data points to decreasing influence of rural areas
Census data points to decreasing influence of rural areas
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 8:51 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Rural Kansas is getting smaller according to the latest data from the U.S. Census released last Thursday.

The data shows 80 of the state’s 105 counties lost population. Those biggest decreases in rural areas, while gains were made in urban and suburban areas.

It’s the data that will be used to help shape the invisible lines through the sunflower state that will determine representation.

Kansas lawmakers are in the process of doing that, holding a sprint through the state last week with 14 town hall meetings.

Wichita State Political Science Professor and Voting and Election Science Team member Brian Amos, Ph.D. said, “In the spring we got total state population. We knew that the total population hasn’t changed that much but within the state, there’s been changes.”

Dr. Brian Amos is also going through this data. The Wichita State University political science professor, who studies redistricting and the impact of geography on politics.

Amos said, “So personally, I’m interested in local redistricting. This doesn’t just affect Congress. This doesn’t just affect state legislatures but your county, depending on what city you live in, your city districts will be affected by this.”

Dr. Amos said what Kansas continues to see is most of the rural counties shedding population, a trend going back decades. It’s while the urban cores continue to grow. The Kansas City Metro seeing the greatest influx of people.

“Those rural areas will get less and less representation, which we’ve seen looking back decades now,” he said.

For Congressional districts, which Kansas has four, the biggest impact will likely be in district three. It’s also the sole Democrat seat from Kansas in Congress with Representative Sharice Davids. As the district stands, there are more people represented by this district in the state because of the inward migration.

Amos said, “Some movement of people out of Sharice Davids district into those districts 1 and 2 will have to be made to balance out those populations.”

But how this process moves forward is largely under the dictation of state Republicans. Dr. Amos said while they might only make small changes, the stronger likelihood is to see some drastic changes.

“Good chance that they’ll make bigger changes.” He said, “Obviously, they’re Republicans. They don’t want a Democrat elected so they may break up Sharice Davids district substantially.”

That reshuffling will also impact statehouse Senate and House seats, with urban areas set to gain more seats from the population declines in rural areas.

Dr. Amos said that can have an impact on voters.

“Political science literature has looked at what kind of effect that has. People not knowing who represents them can lower voter turnout. Lower engagement just because they don’t know what’s happening. They have to relearn all these things,” he said.

Dr. Amos is a member of the Voting and Election Science Team. The grant-funded effort to help collect and analyze data central to redistricting.

“We are especially interested in the redrawing of political lines, and we get a lot of data from the Census, really nice data to use. But, we’re also interested in the partisan implications. Are we going to have gerrymandering in Kansas? Well, to know that, we need detailed election information. It can be difficult to find that. It’s a huge project and often times we have to go county by county.” He said, “Kansas has 105 counties and we’re looking nationwide at this. Over the past three or five years, we’ve been working through each state, each county getting 2016, 2018, 2020 election results with an eye toward being able to study what does districting look like.”

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