Two Emporia State University students addressed Kansas lawmakers about redistricting during a virtual town hall Tuesday evening.
Abe Lemus and Ryan Sauter spoke to the state House and Senate committees from the Bloomer Veterans Hall of Honor at the Memorial Union, which was one of four host sites across the state.
The cities of McPherson, Liberal and Great Bend also participated in the town hall, which allowed citizens to make their voices heard as the state legislature prepares to redraw congressional and legislative maps in its upcoming session.
One other virtual town hall was held Monday and two more are planned for next week in other cities.
Lemus, a junior in political science, a McNair Scholar and a lifelong Emporian, explained that he had spent this summer researching the history and impact of partisan redistricting in Kansas. In conducting that research, he compared Kansas — where redistricting is carried out by the state legislature — to Iowa, where redistricting is carried out by an independent committee.
He said that Kansas’s system had led to issues in the past, such as in 2012, when a federal court had to apportion the state’s districts after the legislature could not come to an agreement prior to adjourning its session.
“Going forward, the current method of redistricting is partisan in nature for both parties,” Lemus said. “Although it is constitutionally the duty of the state legislature to redistrict their own community, representatives and state legislatures jeopardize free elections through their own political interests instead of public interest.”
He called on the state legislature to use an independent redistricting committee in 2030.
Lemus also presented a proposed district map that he drew up himself after conducting his research. He said that he believed Lyon County — as well as some other similar counties — should be included in the 2nd District rather than the 1st District.
“The Big 1st has been a staple for rural communities and Emporia is starting to become more urbanized and it houses Emporia State University,” he said.
He advocated for Emporia, Pittsburg and Manhattan to be included in the 2nd District, which already has two state university host cities in Topeka and Lawrence.
“The importance of keeping communities of interest — in this case, institutions of higher education — can help drive political interests toward these counties that mean so much to them,” he said.
Lemus urged lawmakers to enact changes that will benefit the people of the state rather than the political aims of those charged with the decision-making process.
“The current status quo for Kansas will only lead to a deeper polarization of politics and unequal representation of our population,” he said. “It hinders more people than improves the parties’ own political power and structure, and all I ask is that you consider public interest over political interests when you draw these maps for 2022.”
Sauter, a math major and a pitcher on the ESU baseball team, presented what he called “an alternative approach” to redistricting that would be less partisan in nature.
He grouped counties together geographically and by population to form pods that could then be further connected by geography and population to create four districts of equal population to each other and that make sense geographically.
He said that forming pods of counties kept the process more “simplistic,” which reduces lawmakers’ capacity to gerrymander.
“Say we split this into the 105 ... counties in Kansas, that would allow you to make much more intricate patterns of districts,” Sauter said. “The premise of this game in which you’re doing your best to take away partisanship in your decisions and also bias is something that I believe should be considered when redistricting.”