On Nov. 6, Kansas voters adopted a new state constitutional amendment that will have a significant positive impact on the Lawrence community and the University of Kansas.
In an approximate 60-40% vote, Kansas voters eliminated a specification within the state constitution that was responsible for excluding nonresident students and military members from local census numbers. In the 2020 United States Census, nonresident students in Lawrence and across the state will now be counted as a part of their local municipalities as opposed to their permanent residences in other counties or potentially other states.
Due to census results being responsible for distribution of federal funds to local governments and allotment of U.S. House of Representative seats, this is a major win for Lawrence, Douglas County and the state of Kansas as a whole. Adjusting Kansas’ census numbers unfairly reduces the amount of power held in college towns and military communities.
Section 1 of Article X of the Kansas constitution has mandated the census adjustment since 1990. The third census adjustment was in 2010. The adjustment of this census reduced Douglas county’s population from 110,826 to 98,665, an 11% decrease.
The adjustment process is an egregiously expensive affair. The 2010 adjustment project cost taxpayers $198,927 and reduced overall state population by 0.48%. Although a half percent is unlikely to award Kansas an additional representative in Congress, the passage of the amendment and subsequent increase in population numbers carries significant financial impacts that will increase federal funding overall throughout the state.
Current Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab advocated for the passing of the amendment and said the 2020 adjustment would cost the Secretary of State’s office $835,000 if the amendment failed.
This ballot measure was a no-brainer, but why did roughly 134,000 Kansans vote against the amendment? Plain and simple: the amendment as presented on the ballot was incredibly difficult to understand. The amendment scored exceptionally poor on readability formulas.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale is used to measure how many years of education the average individual would need to fully understand a ballot measure. The FKGL estimated that the census adjustment amendment would take 23 years of U.S. formal education to understand. The amendment also scored negatively on the Flesch Reading Ease scale, the grade level scale’s counterpart formula, indicating that a Ph.D. reading level would be required on average to comprehend the amendment as presented.
Genuine opposition to the amendment existed outside of general confusion, however. On March 7, seven Kansas state representatives voted against putting the amendment on the general election ballot. Lawmakers expressed concerns that eliminating the adjustment shifted crucial populations away from rural communities to college towns like Lawrence.
There is honor in local representatives defending the interests of their constituents, but this argument falls flat. Students provide far more economic stimulus to their college towns than their permanent residences. The increased population also necessitates increased funding for public services in college towns.
Adjusting student populations out to areas where they are not currently residing is unfair to Lawrence locals who are left footing the bill for services provided to impermanent residents in town.
Although Kansas has endured 30 years of this bizarre and complicated process, Kansas voters, along with bipartisan support from our state government, have finally righted the ship. The 2020 United States Census will more accurately reflect the communities of Kansas and will hopefully provide relief to permanent residents of our college towns.
Elijah Southwick is a senior from Overland Park studying English and journalism.