Two proposals related to the 2020 census could hasten the pace at which rural Kansas — and especially southwest Kansas — loses political clout at the state and federal levels.
The first comes from Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab. He wants the state to stop adjusting population figures to compensate for rural Kansans who leave home — perhaps temporarily — to serve in the military or attend college.
Schwab told lawmakers that the state could save more than $800,000 if it changed the Kansas Constitution, which requires the state to adjust population figures to account for residents who are away from home when the 10-year census is conducted because they are attending college or serving in the military.
Schwab said to comply with current law, the state must contact college students and military personnel that the nationwide census finds living in places such as Fort Riley, Lawrence and Wichita and ask them if they should be counted at their current location or their hometowns.
Schwab, in arguing for the change, said that starting in 2010, the adjustments favored urban areas, according to an article in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
I’m not sure what defines an urban area, but it’s hard to see how eliminating the population adjustment would help rural Kansas. The number of military bases and four-year colleges in rural Kansas — and in southwest Kansas in particular — makes it impossible for the math to work out as anything other than a loss, politically and population-wise.
Given the cost cited by Schwab, support for a change is understandable. But rural Kansans should understand that there also will be a cost in terms of lost political representation in Topeka and Washington.
Already, more than half of Kansans live within 60 miles of either Kansas City or Wichita. Population trends are sapping the political strength of rural Kansas. Laws such as this one will hurry things along.
The other census-related proposal that could slight rural Kansas is on the federal level.
Pushed by Republicans such as former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, the administration of President Donald Trump plans to ask people about their citizenship status during the 2020 Census.
Given current anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, many non-citizens will forego filling out census forms rather than provide that information to officials.
The proposal has prompted lawsuits based on the argument that including it would lead to inaccurate counts in certain cities, counties and states.
The U.S. Constitution, as written by the founding fathers, does not limit political representation based on citizenship.
Originally, the Constitution did discriminate against one group. Slaves counted only as three-fifths of a human being. That was a compromise between North and South states, one that boosted the political powers of Southern states with large numbers of slaves.
It’s also worth noting that when the Constitution was adopted, certain people — women, for example — were prohibited from voting and denied equal rights. But these people, citizen and non-citizen, were counted in the census.
In Kansas today, many communities have relatively high percentages of non-citizen residents. It’s hard to get accurate counts, but one indicator might be the percentage of foreign-born people in a county.
In Kansas as a whole, the number of foreign-born residents is about 7 percent, according to U.S. Census estimates. But in the three largest counties in southwest Kansas — Seward, Ford and Finney — more than 20 percent of the population is foreign-born.
Not all people who are foreign-born are non-citizens. Many are naturalized citizens. But I think it’s reasonable to use the census numbers to indicate a relative number of likely non-citizens in a community.
Supporters of the citizenship question say it will give officials more accurate counts. But population analysts argue that won’t happen because so many people will be fearful of participating.
If they are correct, communities with relatively large non-citizen populations will be the losers.
Federal, state and local governments use census data to help determine everything from seats in the Legislature and Congress to funding for programs and services.
Rural Kansas, already sapped by population losses, will suffer more erosion of political and economic clout if the design of the census means non-citizens will be undercounted.
A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.