Will Kansas House District 40 be the most dramatic state district example of prison-based gerrymandering?

Prison-based gerrymandering is confounding state legislative redistricting efforts in more ways than one.

by Leah Sakala, May 8, 2012

Will the Kansas State House districts become one of the biggest examples of prison-based gerrymandering in the nation? The proposed House redistricting plan certainly is, but time is running out and the House and Senate are refusing to approve the other chamber’s plans.

In a recent Kansas City Star column, Mary Sanchez pointed out that, “Kansas has the potential for shenanigans like no other state, thanks to the high concentration of inmates in the Leavenworth area.” She’s right: almost a quarter of proposed House District 40 is incarcerated in Leavenworth-area state, federal and military prisons. The district is somewhat over-populated, but the effect of the prison is massive. If the proposed House districts become law, every 4 voters who live near the prison will have the same influence as 5 voters in other districts.

The impact of prison-based gerrymandering is a little smaller in Kansas Senate districts because they contain more people, but the distortion is still numerically significant due to the concentration of Leavenworth prisons. In the Senate’s proposed plan, nearly 8% of the State Senate District 5 is incarcerated.

But the benefits of ending prison-based gerrymandering in Kansas extend even beyond electoral fairness. A Leavenworth-area paper recently featured the question of how to split Leavenworth County between multiple State Senate districts. The problem is that Leavenworth County is too large, by Census figures, to be a single Senate District, confounding the efforts of those who want to keep the community from being divided.

Here’s the kicker: after removing the population inflation caused by prison-based gerrymandering, the number of actual residents in Leavenworth County is just about right for the county to be its own district.

If Leavenworth County residents want to avoid being divided between two Senate districts in this round of redistricting, they should consider insisting on ending prison-based gerrymandering. Fairness in redistricting often has a lot of positive side effects.

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