TOPEKA, Kan. — As lawmakers hold a series of meetings at the Kansas Statehouse to draw up lines for next year’s elections, some Kansas groups are calling for transparency and more inclusion in the state’s redistricting process.
“The people that we elect reflect the knowledge and the needs of the people that they’re there to serve,” said Ami Hyten, Executive Director of the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center.
Topeka Independent Living Resource Center is a civil and human rights organization that advocates for a more accessible society for people with disabilities. The organization is one of several groups in Kansas that joined in a lawsuit against a new election law that opponents said makes it harder for vulnerable communities to participate in the election process.
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Hyten told FOX4’s Kansas Capitol Bureau on Wednesday the same changes needed to make voting more accessible for people with disabilities, should be considered during hearings for redistricting in the state.
“Making sure that there’s wheelchair access,” Hyten explained. “It’s harder for folks that have limited mobility.”
Several Kansas commissions, which include the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission, the Kansas African American Affairs Commission and the Kansas Commission on Disability Concerns, sent a joint letter to the state’s redistricting committee on Monday urging community engagement in the redistricting process.
The letter outlines several steps leaders said the committee should take to ensure participation.
Suggested steps outlined in the letter include:
- Holding hearings in an Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliant space;
- Providing both sign language and Spanish language interpreters and notifying the public of the availability of such services;
- Ensuring several meetings be held during the evening and on the weekends to accommodate working schedules;
- And including maps and/or statements submitted by Communities of Interest.
Leaders of the state’s redistricting committee have said accurate representation is a priority on both sides of the aisle.
“That’s the goal of representative government, to have each one of those individuals as close to equal representation as possible,” said Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover.
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Lawmakers approved 14 town hall meetings before they draw up lines next year to hear from voters. People are able to come in person or submit their input in writing.
“You’re dividing up a neighborhood or a particular community of interest, you kind of find those things out with these public meetings,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita.
A date for the town hall meetings has not yet been scheduled. However, people like Hyten are hoping legislators will take the necessary steps to make sure everyone is included.
“Those are all really fundamental to our democratic process, and they’re all really important to folks with disabilities, folks with all kinds of marginalization,” Sawyer said.
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