A constitutional amendment stands to save nearly a million taxpayer dollars by eliminating a costly and largely pointless bureaucratic exercise.
The amendment, which stops the census adjustment for Kansas legislative apportionment, is on ballots statewide Nov. 5. Kansans should vote yes on this common-sense measure, passed with broad bipartisan support and favored by Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab.
The constitutional amendment is an effort to fix a problem Kansas has been working on for decades: how to count Kansans to apportion seats in the Kansas Legislature. Kansas did its own, duplicated version of the federal census until 1988. That year, Kansans wisely passed a constitutional amendment requiring the state to use the federal census to apportion seats.
Unfortunately, that constitutional amendment still required some adjustments to the federal census. Students and military personnel had to be contacted via survey every 10 years and asked where they wanted to be counted. The survey would take place at the same time the federal government would contact them asking virtually the same question.
At the time of passage, legislators wanted to protect rural representation while diluting blocks of military and student voters. The voting age had only recently dropped to 18 from 21 and the impact of student votes was unclear. What supporters of census adjustment did not anticipate is how little real impact the adjustments would have.
In the three surveys since, adjustments have had little impact, says Davis Hammet, president of Loud Light, which is an organization trying to foster a culture of citizen participation in Kansas. Many students and military personnel do not participate, and most of those who do respond to the survey choose to remain counted in the area in which they reside. At the most recent adjustment in 2010, Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley refused to use federal resources to assist in the project, decreasing military participation.
Less than 1.5 percent of the Kansas population ended up being adjusted.
Ironically, the county that benefited the most from adjustment was Johnson County, not the rural areas that the adjustment intended to benefit. Even as the winner in this strange process, Johnson County only added 6,000 people, or 1 percent of the county’s population. Rural areas, meanwhile, generally lost as many students from rural community colleges as they received from students living at urban universities.
Kansas is the only state in the nation to undergo such a process, and we have little to show for our efforts. This labor-intensive shuffling of small numbers of Kansas residents comes with significant cost to taxpayers. The Kansas secretary of state estimates the survey would cost Kansans $835,000 in 2020, plus hundreds of hours of state worker time.
The only real reason we continue to undergo the survey every 10 years is because it requires a constitutional amendment to stop it. The amendment also asks Kansans to peek inside the complex history of political apportionment, a world most of us find largely unfamiliar and at times, confusing.
But Kansans tend to favor efficient government and responsible spending.
They should vote yes on Nov. 5.