Op-ed: Voters from Across the State Deserve a Voice in Redistricting
Within the next few months the General Assembly is due to draw maps that will define Kentucky’s congressional and legislative districts for the next 10 years.
To date, legislative leaders who control the General Assembly have not invited the public into the process. Perhaps they will reconsider as voters from across the state ask for a voice in how they are represented in Frankfort and Washington. Just because a majority party can draw districts without public input does not mean they should.
Kentucky is one of 28 states that gives the legislature unfettered control over both congressional and legislative redistricting. Maps drawn by this General Assembly are subject to veto by Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat. But Republicans hold veto-proof supermajorities in the House (75-25) and Senate (30-8) – as well as five of Kentucky’s six seats in the U.S. House – and are in firm control of the process.
The League of Women Voters of Kentucky and others urged the General Assembly to form a bipartisan advisory commission to gather public input into redistricting. We were ignored. Since then the League, along with other civic groups and individuals, has been advocating for an open and transparent process with public hearings throughout the state on the subject. That is not happening.
Time pressure is mounting. The deadline for candidates to file for the May, 2022 primary elections is Jan. 7 – less than three months away. Yet the leadership of the General Assembly has given no indication it will hold hearings or solicit public input.
Reports circulate that the GOP in Frankfort is intent upon paybacks for the mapmaking misdeeds of the Democrats in the past. And fears are mounting that Republican leaders will draw the maps in secret and introduce and pass them before the public has a chance to comment.
It’s against this rather bleak backdrop that the League of Women Voters of Kentucky, in cooperation with civic organizations across the state, has been hosting a series of public forums to discuss redistricting, offer potential maps and solicit public comment.
Forums have already been held in Richmond, Hopkinsville, Bowling Green, Frankfort and Lexington. Upcoming ones are scheduled in Pikeville (Oct. 26), Northern Kentucky (Nov.2) and Morehead (Nov. 3). For information on how to register for any of the events or watch past events, go to the League’s website: lwvky.org.
If redistricting is such a foregone conclusion in Kentucky, why invest an hour and a half of your time in a citizens’ forum? Fair question. Consider, please:
- For openers, there’s the principle of it. You can roll over and shrug your shoulders, or you can learn more and let your elected representatives know you are paying attention to what they are or are not doing.
- Then there’s the fact that this stuff, down in the weeds, is actually pretty darned interesting.
The 2020 Census data shows, for example, that while Kentucky grew a modest 3.8 percent over the past decade there has been a considerable shift within the state. Many counties in western and eastern Kentucky have lost population, in some cases more than 9 percent, while the Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky metro areas have seen big gains. This will require some significant changes.
As an example, Northern Kentucky is currently in a congressional district that stretches from the outskirts of Louisville all the way to Ashland. The Census showed that Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties saw strong growth, in some cases explosive. So the question arises – since the lines need to be redrawn, would that region be better served by a more compact district that embraces its transportation and economic corridors to the south? Take a look at the draft map prepared at www.lwvky.org using the 2020 Census data and see if that doesn’t make more sense to you.
Finally, there’s the possibility that one or all of the maps could wind up in court if Republicans in the General Assembly opt to use gerrymandering to benefit incumbents and their party. Such court cases are unpredictable, but a “friend of the court” brief might be much stronger by showing that there are maps, drawn with public input, that more fairly represent Kentucky’s voters.
So please, take a little time and tune in to one of the public forums, tell us what you think would make for better maps and add your voice to the Kentuckians asking legislators to draw maps that give:
- Equal weight to each Kentuckian’s vote.
- Each community equal access and power in the decision-making processes.
-Fran Wagner is president of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky; Dee Pregliasco is 1 st Vice President and chair of the League’s Redistricting Committee.