​Public involvement could play a part in redistricting process

As a former staffer with the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, I often heard this quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck, “Laws are like sausage: it is better not to see them being made.”

That quote always irritated me. I will be the first to acknowledge that lawmaking is a messy process but citizens who engage in the process, can greatly improve the product. And that is why citizen engagement in the upcoming redistricting process is of critical importance. 

All states are required to redraw their congressional and legislative voting maps to reflect the 2020 U.S. Census results. It will be difficult this time around as significant population changes will need to be reflected in these new district boundaries. 

These new voting districts, once established by the Kentucky General Assembly, will affect all of us in some way and will stand for 10 years until the next census.

Traditionally, state legislators have drawn the maps and while they are constrained by some state and federal restrictions, legislators have a lot of flexibility in the process. There is a tendency, as one might guess, for legislators in power to carve up districts to benefit themselves and their party, a practice referred to as gerrymandering. It is a bipartisan problem — both Democrats and Republicans have gerrymandered districts in this state and throughout the country. Under gerrymandering, legislators literally are selecting their constituents instead of drawing fair maps that better reflect community interests. 

To lesson this tendency, some states in recent years have created independent bodies to take on the redistricting process. Others have set up advisory bodies to assist in the process. While there have been proposals introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly the last two years to reduce gerrymandering by setting up an advisory body, these bills were not given a hearing. A resolution this last session calling for the process to be open and transparent, with public forums to be held throughout the state, failed as well.

So in Kentucky, as in many other states, it will be state legislators who will draw up the maps on a date still uncertain. It will most likely be done during the 2022 Regular Session of the General Assembly. 

In the past, redistricting has often been done behind closed doors, often in the dead of night. While it is hoped that this time around, it will be different, the League of Women Voters of Kentucky are not waiting to see how this will play out. They have made redistricting a priority and are hosting public forums on redistricting throughout the state.

The league has purchased the same software legislators will use to draw redistricting maps. Using 2020 U.S. Census data and taking into account state and federal mandates, the league has drawn draft voting maps with NO political consideration — no thought of who currently represents a district. 

Together Frankfort and the American Association of University Women are pleased to host with the League a virtual forum/webinar on redistricting Thursday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. The forum is free and readers can register at bit.ly/FAIRMAPS. For more information and to see the dates of other forums and the draft maps, click on this link.

The forum will focus primarily on our region. Again, these are draft maps — they are preliminary. The league is looking to participants in these forums to weigh in on what they like and what they do not like. They are particularly interested in learning how these maps address communities of interest and those of us who live here in Frankfort and the surrounding areas can provide valuable information about our community. Once the forums are completed, the league will review these draft maps, make changes based on input from the public, and be prepared to present their maps to the General Assembly. 

Peter Miller with the Brennan Center for Justice did a study on public involvement in the 2010 redistricting process across multiple states and found the public, if given the opportunity, can influence the drawing of new district maps. Please join us on Oct 14. Maybe we, the public, can play a part in making the redistricting process this time around look a lot less like sausage making.

Mary Lynn Collins, of Frankfort, is coordinator for Together Frankfort and a member of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky. She can be emailed at Marylynn41@hotmail.com

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