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Douglas County has one month to decide on a map with 5 commission districts

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Now that Douglas County voters have called for an expansion to five county commission districts, new maps must be drawn and decided within one month. 

During a well-attended town hall meeting Thursday evening, Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said that out of 114 precincts, 109 voted in favor of adding two commissioner districts.

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Two of the five precincts that voted “no” to the Nov. 8 ballot question were in the city and the other three were in the county; there was no “county versus city” split, or anything like that, Shew said.

And this moment is a turning point in Douglas County’s history.

“When we go forward with this, let’s kind of look at this from a bigger picture,” Shew said.

“Douglas County has been around for 168 years. We get to be part of something that is much larger than any of us, because for 168 years, we’ve had three commissioners, and now we’re gonna have five.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times The crowd listens during Thursday’s town hall meeting at the fairgrounds.

The maps

County commissioners must decide on a new map with five districts by Jan. 1. 

Districts must be roughly the same size population-wise based on the 2020 census. The magic number for each district is 23,757, Shew said. 

Districts also must be contiguous. Communities of interest should be kept together, Shew said — for instance, the city of Eudora should not be split. Also, the law says townships should stay as whole as possible, Shew said. 

Precincts can be split, but Shew would prefer not to — he said having multiple versions of ballots within precincts complicates elections. 

In addition, current county commissioners cannot be “moved” into new districts — where Commissioners Patrick Kelly, Shannon Reid and Karen Willey reside must be taken into account for the maps, and they must be kept within their current districts. 

He created four variations of five-district maps, called Cities, County, Spokes and Wakarusa. He said they were drafts based on conversations he’d had and concerns he’d had with residents. 

Here are the four maps:

proposedfivecountycommissiondistricts

The election

What happens after the commission chooses and approves a map is in the governor’s hands, though Shew said he’d learned from the Leavenworth county clerk’s recent experience that the governor at the time had taken the recommendation of the county rather than just made the decision. 

Gov. Laura Kelly could say the county should just elect the two new commissioners in 2024, meaning four commission seats would be on the ballot. Commission Districts 2 and 3, currently represented by Reid and Willey, will already be on the ballot in 2024. Commissioners for Districts 4 and 5 would only be elected to two-year terms. 

Then, commissioners for Districts 1, 4 and 5 would be elected next in 2026; commissioners for Districts 2 and 3 would be elected again in 2028.

The governor could also say the county should hold a special election to fill the two new seats. 

If that happens, chairs of parties would call a convention and choose candidates for those districts. Independent candidates could submit a petition with signatures of 5% of qualified electors in the district to get on the ballot. 

The election would have to be held within 90 days, and only the voters within those districts would vote on those commissioners, Shew said. 

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times Kansas Sen. Marci Francisco, seated front and center, speaks during a town hall on the expansion to five county commissioner districts on Dec. 1, 2022.

Next steps

Those in attendance at the town hall broke into smaller groups to discuss and for facilitators to gather feedback. 

Douglas County commission meetings will serve as opportunities for public engagement over the new maps, Shew said. 

Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said this issue would be on every commission meeting agenda until the process is done. The last regularly scheduled meeting of the year is Wednesday, Dec. 14, but commissioners have said they’re willing to meet again as needed, Plinsky said. 

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Members of the public can also provide feedback via this online form

Commission Chair Shannon Reid said she believes this expansion represents the county evolving, and it was a chance to build more community, not divide it or segregate it. 

“To me — and I think my fellow county commissioners would agree — this is an opportunity for increasing representation along with fostering more engagement with and understanding of how our county government serves all residents across all districts,” Reid said. 

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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