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  • Last modified 26 days ago (Dec. 20, 2018)

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From bad to worse

To gerrymander or not to gerrymander, that is the question. And to date, county commissioners seem to have had no Shakespearian dilemma in resoundingly answering the question without a “not.”

New plans unveiled Monday would be downright immoral if not patently illegal. One would create districts of dramatically unequal size. Two others would create districts that are not geographically contiguous, isolating portions of both Marion and Hillsboro from the rest of the districts that would include them.

All four of the plans the county has publicized to date would accomplish two and only two things:

  • They would preserve two current commissioners’ seats by drawing boundaries in such a convoluted way that they would continue to reside in districts they represent.
  • They would ensure that rural voters are a majority in three of the proposed five districts, even though they constitute less than half of the county population.

This, dear readers, is the very definition of gerrymandering — drawing districts so that they favor specific politicians or specific political interests.

We’ve proposed an alternative — one that would have urban voters as the majority in three districts and rural voters as the majority in two, which is as close as you can get to their actual percentages when dividing by five.

Our plan, as modified by reader suggestions after last week’s initial publication, would have only contiguous districts and would violate no precinct or township boundaries.

It would create districts of much closer to the same size than the three current commissioner districts — so close, in fact, that they pass a sophisticated test of statistical significance (called Chi Square) indicating that any variation in size is within the standard margin of error, just like the one used in political polling.

Marion and its nearby unincorporated areas would be represented by one commissioner. Hillsboro would dominate one district and have a narrow majority in a second. Basically, it’s as close as we could get to ensuring equal representation for all voters in proportion to their actual numbers in the county.

It may not be the only plan that accomplishes these objectives, but it’s the only plan publicized to date that does.

Commissioners with vested interests in seeing this plan defeated may win out and come up with some gerrymandered scheme that protects their own seats and ensures continuation of present overrepresentation of rural interests.

But unlike their decisions to inflate the payroll for new commissioners and reject voter advice and hire a county administrator, there’s something the rest of us could do about this.

Kansas law — unlike the law in many other states — does not make it illegal to consider actions not on a meeting’s agenda, and it basically lets commissioners pay themselves whatever they want.

But when it comes to districting, we have options. Let’s hope we don’t need to use them.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Dec. 20, 2018

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