Kentucky LWV urges open redistricting process, public input

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ)The League of Women Voters of Kentucky is urging state lawmakers to commit this year to an open redistricting process, with input from the public.

The call comes on the heels of an announcement by federal officials that data from the 2020 Census will not be available to the states until late September, at the earliest.

This will reduce the time available to redraw legislative and congressional boundaries for the 2022 election cycle and the decade beyond

“Redistricting is fundamental to the democratic process,” Fran Wagner, president of the Kentucky LWV, said Tuesday. “It would be an insult to voters if the General Assembly were to draw new maps behind closed doors.”

Under existing law, the General Assembly is required after each Census to redraw district boundaries for Kentucky’s seats in the U.S. House (6), State Senate (38) and State House (100).

The Kentucky LWV earlier proposed a Fair Maps Act that would establish a bi-partisan, 15-member Citizen’s Advisory Commission to conduct public hearings and advise the General Assembly on redistricting matters. A bill to establish such a commission – already used in Ohio and more than a dozen other states — has been filed but is languishing in committee.

On Feb. 11, Rep. Buddy Wheatley filed House Concurrent Resolution 61 encouraging the General Assembly to take steps to allow public input and hold public hearings during the redistricting process.

“This is the bare minimum,” Wagner said.

“The League and other groups are already drafting options using existing data. We are prepared to respond quickly and responsibly as soon as the 2020 Census results are released,” she added. “There just isn’t any valid reason for Kentucky’s lawmakers to exclude their constituents, or public interest groups, or academics, from the redistricting process.”

In Kentucky, and across the country, in past decades, the redistricting process has given rise to legal and political fights over gerrymandering – drawing boundaries for partisan advantage.

Wagner noted that incumbent protection has also been an implicit goal when legislators draw their own maps.

State and federal law require that districts be as equal as possible in terms of population, that they not intentionally dilute the voting power of racial minorities and for state senate and house districts, must divide as few counties as possible.

Wagner noted while some protections exist to protect the voting rights of persons of color, recent court decisions have limited judicial review of partisan factors in redistricting.
This year, she noted, population losses in eastern and western Kentucky, coupled with growth along the interstate corridors, seem likely to force the greatest pressure for changes in existing boundaries.

“This is exactly why public input is so important,” she said. “Citizens need to be able to express their views on how districts can be drawn in the most rational way, to serve their economic and practical needs.”

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