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Kansas City, Missouri, is redrawing its City Council districts — a process that will impact governing, representation and politics for at least the next decade.
Redistricting takes place every 10 years at the federal, state and local levels. It follows the most recent U.S. census count, which gathers overall population numbers as well as demographic and geographic information.
For Kansas City, Missouri, the deadline to redraw City Council districts is fast approaching. Officials have until Dec. 31 to establish new districts, according to the city charter.
The redistricting process follows a tumultuous 2020 census count, during which legal battles and the pandemic led to confusion over deadlines for data collection. The release of census data was delayed by several months, to this September.
Despite the delayed release, cities like Kansas City still face the end of the year deadline to redraw City Council boundaries.
“We have about nine weeks to do what generally has been done in the past, in nine months,” said Vicki Noteis, a member of the Redistricting Commission. “We’re meeting weekly to move that along.”
Ahead of that deadline, The Kansas City Beacon breaks down redistricting: how it happens, why it matters and what’s at stake.
Who is in charge of City Council redistricting?
Redrawing City Council boundaries falls to the Redistricting Commission, a nine-member body of volunteers from across the city. All members were appointed by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas in September, and all six council districts are represented.
The Redistricting Commission has met weekly since Sept. 8 to determine how the latest census data will change districts and their boundaries.
“We’re moving along through a series of reviewing data and taking a look at what the census is telling us, and some of our history, and have a method for how we’re narrowing down a lot of different options,” said Noteis, a former director of Kansas City’s Planning and Development Department.
Stephenie Smith, chair of the Redistricting Commission, said the group wanted to create a process that is transparent, builds a culture of accountability and prioritizes equity among the city’s residents.
“I think it’s important that as a commission, we are thoughtful about all of our citizens,” she said. “And we are thoughtful about how we would be able to share the responsibility of growth. Because it doesn’t just fall on one district, but instead, all of us Kansas Citians.”
The Redistricting Commission works with Kansas City’s Planning and Development Department to draft new maps of possible City Council districts based on the updated census findings. The department takes recommendations from the commission and ensures they follow city and federal law, said Kyle Elliott, division manager for long-range planning and preservation in the Planning and Development Department.
“Then we balance those to make sure that they are apportioned as closely as they can, and they still match the requests that the commissioners or the public provided,” Elliott said.
The commission will make a recommendation in December to the city council, which has the final say.
Are there requirements to City Council redistricting?
The Redistricting Commission must follow a set of guidelines established by the City Council. The first goal is to “provide for equality in the political process” by following the rule of one person, one vote.
“Redistricting is all about ensuring representation,” Smith said.
The populations of the districts should be “as close to equal as reasonably possible.” Current law states that the city should be divided into six districts, and the boundaries must be “compact and contiguous.”
But that task can be difficult when municipalities such as Gladstone, Raytown and North Kansas City bump up against Kansas City’s council boundaries, Noteis said.
“So the biggest challenge is trying to divide these so that they’re equal and that those division lines make sense,” she said.
The city’s 10% rule also guides redistricting: The difference between the population of the district with the most people and the district with the least cannot exceed 10%.
Redistricting must also follow the U.S. Voting Rights Act, which states that redistricting cannot discriminate on the basis of race. In Kansas City, protected voting blocs are located in the 3rd and 5th districts, which both have majority Black populations.
How do the new census results affect City Council districts?
The 2020 census put Kansas City’s population at 508,090. That means each of the six council districts should, ideally, have about 84,682 people.
Kansas City’s population had grown by about 10% since 2010. Every council district saw its population increase.
The 1st and 2nd districts — both covering the Northland — grew the most, about 24% and 19%, respectively. The 4th district, which encompasses downtown and Midtown, increased its population by 15%.
“We’ve grown enough that each district has to take on that many more people,” Noteis said.
What is outlined in the two redistricting maps now being considered?
The commission began with 20 sample maps, said member Clinton Adams Jr., who lives in the 3rd District. Now, after weeks of meetings and several public engagement sessions, members are working with two maps: Map 8.4 and Map 8.6.
In Map 8.4, the boundary between the 1st and 2nd districts runs east-west along Barry Road instead of the current iteration, where the border runs north-south along Woodland Avenue, following the division between Clay and Platte Counties.
This map also changes the boundary between the 5th and 6th districts by placing the 5th in southeast Kansas City and the 6th in southwest Kansas City. Currently, the two districts are separated by an east-west boundary along Highways 435 and 470. This new configuration would change that boundary to a north-south line along Hillcrest Road, to place the Hickman Mills School District in one City Council district.
“That Hickman Mills area, they would like to get as much of the school district as possible into one district,” Adams said. “And that district will be the 5th District.”
Map 8.4 also moves the southern border of the 4th District north to 43rd Street, which would move the Plaza area and the area around the University of Missouri-Kansas City into the 6th District.
Map 8.6 preserves the current north-south boundary between the 1st and 2nd Districts, and also includes the same boundary changes between the 5th and 6th District and the 4th and 5th Districts reflected in map 8.4.
I’m a Kansas City, Missouri, resident. What major changes could I expect to see from redistricting?
There’s a chance you’ll see the boundaries of your district shift to accommodate changes in population and follow city and federal guidelines.
“For those that are in certain neighborhoods, their district line may change, they may end up in a different district,” Smith said.
Residents of the 3rd District, which encompasses the neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue, could see the boundaries shift south.
“We know that we have more Latinos and Latinas and white folks as we go up north,” Smith said. “That means that we have to draw the line for the 3rd District further south. We’re going to maintain, or do our part, in protecting that voting bloc.”
For residents of the 1st or 2nd districts, representation could change dramatically if the commission chooses map 8.4, which would split the districts horizontally along Barry Road.
That’s because census data shows a sharp income divide. Adams said the area north of Barry Road is a more affluent area than neighborhoods to the south of Barry Road.
”There’s some thinking, and we heard testimony to the fact that that area has been able to dominate the southern portions of the Northland politically,” Adams said. “And deny the more working class or the less-affluent areas a strong voice.”
Residents of the 4th District who live around the Country Club Plaza area or around the University of Missouri-Kansas City could see their district change, too. The maps being considered move those neighborhoods into the 6th District.
“It was impossible to keep the Plaza in the 4th District,” Noteis said. “There’s just no way.”
What’s at stake with City Council redistricting?
In a word: representation. For lower-income residents in the 1st and 2nd districts, changing the boundary to Barry Road could mean gaining a representative in city government who has more in common with their concerns. Right now, the council members who represent the 1st and 2nd districts all live north of Barry Road.
Redistricting could also mean increased diversity on the City Council. Noteis, a 4th District resident, noted the historic lack of Hispanic representation on the council, partly as a result of the West Side and historic Northeast neighborhoods — the city’s most heavily Hispanic areas — being included with the rest of the 4th District.
“There hasn’t been a Hispanic member of the council for a very long time, partly because of that,” Noteis said. “So one of the goals of this commission was to do everything we could to keep both the West Side and Old Northeast together as much as possible so that the Hispanic population has a higher percentage all in one council district.”
How can I participate in City Council redistricting?
The Redistricting Commission is meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. every Wednesday leading up to its December presentation to the City Council. Meetings are open to the public and can be streamed on YouTube or through Zoom.
You can submit comments on redistricting online at the city’s website.
Where is the commission in the redistricting process?
The commission meets again Monday. Adams said the members will vote on their final map recommendation the week of Nov. 22.
The commission plans to make its recommendations to the City Council in early December. The council then has to vote to approve a new map by Dec. 31.
Smith said she would recommend that the council add an additional district, for a total of seven.
In addition, Smith said she will recommend that, if the city sticks to six council districts, the city should switch from having six at-large representatives and six in-council representatives to 12 district representatives.
“I think that that is part of our future as a growing city,” Smith said.