Secretary of State Scott Schwab is convinced Kansas needs to shed one measure of its unique Constitution.

Schwab, who is the state's top election official, said voters would be justified if they ended the only-state-in-the-nation mandate to modify U.S. Census figures in ways directly influencing boundaries of legislative districts and state education board seats.

"It takes a long time. We have to hire a vendor to do it," Schwab said on the Capitol Insider podcast. "Burdensome, antiquated and expensive."

 

He said passage of the amendment Nov. 5 would eliminate wasteful spending and a layer of bureaucratic wrangling. He said it wouldn't, as some theorized in the past, disenfranchise rural counties with dwindling population.

The state constitution currently enables college students or military personnel living away from home to voluntarily decide to be counted at a "permanent" location elsewhere. The fundamental result is a modest population shift every 10 years that moves political boundaries for the Kansas Legislature and the Kansas State Board of Education.

The next round of population massaging would cost the state an estimated $835,000, which wasn't included in the state's 2019-20 budget. The process would take three to six months to complete.

State constitutional amendments have potential to generate division and robust campaigns for or against the measure. Two weeks from Election Day, no such movement has emerged regarding the Census amendment. A simple majority of those voting will decide the question.

Years ago, Schwab said, Kansas conducted an agricultural census to make certain rural areas of the state didn't artificially lose residents to populous counties while people were enrolled in college or served in the military. This recalculation process was controlled by county officials.

In the late 1980s, Kansans agreed to amend the constitution to the current system in which the official U.S. Census headcount was influenced through intervention by the Kansas secretary of state. For example, students at Kansas State University could respond to an inquiry from the secretary of state by declaring a preference to be counted as a resident of Franklin County to the east or Ford County to the west or belonging to another state entirely.

Schwab, a Republican and former Johnson County member of the Kansas House, said transition from county to state control revealed evidence county appraisers had been falsifying reports to conceal population losses.

"What they found out is a lot of rural areas got punched because appraisers were inflating numbers," Schwab said.

The largest beneficiary of the constitutionally mandated population adjustment is Johnson County, which picked up a 2,000 residents in 2011. The biggest losers were Riley, Douglas and Ellis counties, which host state universities. In the previous adjustment, no county had its population inflated more than 3% and the overall state headcount was reduced less than 0.5%

The Kansas Senate voted unanimously to place the amendment to Section 1, Article 10 on ballots, while the Kansas House concurred 117-7. It's possible the handful of objections were tied to Schwab's past work as a state representative or lingering anxiety change could harm rural representation.

"It's easier to explain a 'no' vote instead of a 'yes' vote. A lot of folks will just go a safe direction," Schwab said.