The Future of Kansas’ Maps

The discourse surrounding the 2022 redistricting process has generally focused on the auspicious position Republicans have found themselves in; having control over redistricting in a majority of congressional districts. A standout example of where Republicans might face more difficulty than expected is my home state of Kansas. 

     To preface this analysis, it’s important to reflect upon what happened in 2010. Republicans earned supermajorities in the state House and Senate, as well as cinching the governorship. With Republicans fighting tooth-and-nail for gerrymanders in other states, it seemed almost inevitable that KS-03 would be redrawn into a red district– but that’s not exactly what happened. Instead, Kansas ended up with court drawn maps for the state legislature and US House. The Republicans lost the potential leg up because the legislature had come to a stalemate regarding which map to use. The responsibility then fell into the lap of the US District Court of Kansas. I encourage our readers to read more about the 2010 debacle in this article, which I found to be a very interesting read.

As one might imagine, the legislature has changed over the past decade. Republicans are clinging to their supermajorities (with limited success) and the party’s more moderate members were shown the door in the 2020 primary elections. This may make things easier for Republicans, but the margin for error is incredibly thin. At the legislative level, the situation is parlous. Assuming the Kansas GOP attempts a gerrymander, that’s a guaranteed 39 Democratic votes in the House and 11 in the Senate automatically opposed to the proposed map. To make matters worse, it’ll be an uphill battle to gerrymander and manage to not draw out incumbent Republicans in the process. The Kansas GOP likely won’t get approval for a map in their favor over Laura Kelly’s veto. As a result, the legislative maps will be drawn in a manner that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on (one which focuses on incumbent protection and safe districts), or a court drawn map. In either case, the new maps are likely to be quite similar to the current maps. I’ve heard an assortment of opinions on which of these two options will come to fruition. The new Senate president, Ty Masterson, has claimed that he will not attempt a gerrymander, stating here that “Every human has a natural bias, and it’s not on either side of the aisle, it’s on both sides of the aisle. Each side would like to see itself get stronger, but that’s not this process,” and that they’re “(…)Going to bring in the data and try to get as close as we can to one person one vote,”. Whether or not Republicans will remain steadfast to this commitment, however, is another question entirely. Additionally, positing legislative redistricting as a duking out between Kansas Republicans and Democrats may be slightly misleading. When asked about this issue, a former legislator told me their thoughts: “The battle of map making in Kansas is rarely R v D but instead House v Senate”. This sentiment was also echoed by another currently serving legislator. The general consensus is that it’ll be very difficult for Republicans to successfully gerrymander the legislative maps and that they’re better off not trying. Or, if they insist upon attempting a gerrymander, they should pass a very, very mild one.

The congressional maps, however, are a completely different story. Voting here becomes much more partisan, and I don’t see a place where Democrats could mine the votes to prevent gerrymandered congressional maps from overriding Kelly’s veto and passing. The only Republican who I can foresee voting against a gerrymander is John Doll, a moderate Republican state senator from western Kansas who has been somewhat of a thorn in the side of the GOP on various occasions. One Republican defector, however, isn’t enough to prevent an attempted gerrymander. The previous Kansas Senate President, Susan Wagle, openly advocated a gerrymandered map with 4 Republican districts at a fundraiser last year. The new Senate leader’s comments indicate that he doesn’t seem to have the same intention, but I don’t see why Republicans wouldn’t put at least some effort into gerrymandering the congressional maps. So, in the event that a gerrymandered congressional map is passed, what will come of it? Let’s examine the possible outcomes for challenging the gerrymandered maps in court.

I’ve seen some analysts say that the Kansas Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over federal redistricting, and that disputes would need to go to federal court. However, federal courts cannot rule on partisan redistricting issues anymore, which would mean that a Kansas court would need to take up the issue if the map ends up featuring a partisan gerrymander (at least that’s my interpretation of the rule). There is also a claim that by bringing gerrymanders to federal courts on arguments, they will dilute minority voting power– but this seems like a less certain path to success than getting the state courts involved. It is actually possible to draw Republican gerrymanders with better minority representation than the current maps, so this could leave federal courts as a non-option. My own prediction is that the Kansas Supreme Court with a 6-1 Dem appointee advantage will do something similar to what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did in 2018 (the same clauses used to justify the Pennsylvania opinion are in the Kansas constitution as well), although I know that many will disagree with my opinion here. This option would result in a map which primarily reflects the current maps.

Another possibility is that Republicans will draw a packed Dem district, marshalling Wyandotte, Douglas, Topeka, and Northern Johnson County into one district. Considering the direction in which Kansas’ political leanings have been shifting as of late, it may be a wise choice to prevent a dummymander years down the line in addition to possibly preventing a court intervention. That being said, this line of thought doesn’t quite follow how Republicans like to get the job done, and they likely assume that Kansas’ political leanings will stabilize at some point. 

Overall, I believe that the legislative maps have an 80% chance of being drawn by the Kansas Supreme Court and a 20% chance of being a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. At the federal level, it’s closer to a 65% chance status quo, a 30% chance of a Republican gerrymander, and a 5% chance of a wildcard, like Democrats all being packed into the 3rd. Regardless of how the courts or party officials approach redistricting, the process will be one to watch.