Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew and his staff have come up with one more draft of a map to split the county into five commission districts, and commissioners will likely vote on the map Wednesday.
County voters in the Nov. 8 election called for an expansion to five county commission districts from the current three. The commission must decide on a new five-district map by Jan. 1.
“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,” Shew said during a Dec. 1 town hall meeting.
After hearing feedback from the public during meetings and via an online form, the county clerk’s office has gone through revisions of map proposals that would divide the county into five contiguous districts with relatively equal populations.
Part of the reason some voters wanted to expand the commission was because they wanted greater rural representation, following the election of three Lawrence residents. Because Lawrence’s population is so large relative to the rest of the county, it is difficult to create five districts that couldn’t still end up leading to five city residents getting elected.
The draft map commissioners will consider during their meeting Wednesday divides the population into five fairly equal districts — 22,036 being the smallest, 24,664 the largest — and they include varying populations of people living in the incorporated and unincorporated parts of the county.
“Creating a map which perfectly addresses completely all criteria and concerns is almost impossible, this proposed map attempts to find the balance between all of the values and criteria expressed,” Shew’s memo to the commission states. “Some of the values compete against each other which limits options, but this proposed map successfully meets at least part of every value discussed by the Commission and Douglas County residents, while abiding by the law, minimizing disruption for voters and avoiding further complicating election administration at the polling place.”
Here’s the full description and map:County-Commission-Redistricting-Pdf
Shew has explained that the two new seats could be filled with a special election or during the 2024 general election. Commissioners during their last meeting indicated that they would likely prefer to wait for 2024 to fill the two new seats rather than hold a special election, which would require a quick turnaround — within 90 days. However, some people who spoke during public comment pushed for a special election to give voters more representation sooner rather than later.
Ultimately, Gov. Laura Kelly, with input from the commissioners, will make the determination of whether there should be a special election or whether the vote should wait until 2024.
The Douglas County Commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 21 at the Douglas County courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Commissioners will likely take their final vote on the map during the meeting. The commission has no meeting scheduled for Dec. 28.