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The Kansas gerrymandering trial in Wyandotte County is almost over. Here are the takeaways

Wyandotte County Courthouse hallway
Dylan Lysen
/
Kansas News Service
People stand in the hallway of the Wyandotte County Courthouse.

Experts argue that analysis shows racial and political gerrymandering, while the defense says there's no way to prove it.

KANSAS CITY, Kansas — A trial in state court challenging the recently drawn Kansas congressional map is soon coming to a close after several days of arguments over whether state lawmakers crafted districts to benefit Republican candidates.

Civil rights groups and some residents want the map thrown out because it waters down the influence of people of color by splitting Wyandotte County into separate districts, and because it lumps heavily Democratic Lawrence in a Republican-dominated district.

The challengers spent the first three days of the trial this week providing expert testimony and evidence to bolster their case. Meanwhile the attorneys defending the map have argued that the case should be dismissed.

One more day of testimony is expected on Monday, and then the case will be in the hands of Judge Bill Klapper. He is expected to issue a ruling within 10 days.

Regardless of which way he decides to rule, it will be historic. The Kansas judicial system has never before considered political or racial gerrymandering, and the case is believed to be on its way to a landmark ruling.

With a majority of the testimony heard by the court, here’s some major takeaways from the proceedings so far:

• Experts argue political and racial gerrymandering

Political scientist Christopher Warshaw of George Washington University showed the court his statistical analysis of Kansas’ new districts. He said it showed the changes to Wyandotte County and Lawrence cut the chances of a Democratic candidate winning a Kansas seat to the U.S. House nearly in half.

Then Patrick Miller of the University of Kansas presented data showing the most racially diverse portion of Wyandotte County was cut out of the 3rd District, which represents the Kansas City area, into the 2nd District that represents most of eastern Kansas and favors Republicans.

He called that change “disastrous” for the people of color in Wyandotte County because it makes their votes “basically irrelevant.”

• Defense says there’s no way to prove gerrymandering

After the plaintiffs finished presenting testimony, attorneys for the state asked the judge to dismiss the case for a lack of evidence.

The defense argued that there is no standard in Kansas to prove what is or isn’t gerrymandering and the challengers could not prove a state law was broken. The judge denied the request.

• Judge calls evidence ‘overwhelming’

In his denial, Klapper signaled he believed that the plaintiffs had presented “overwhelming” evidence that the new districts result in political and racial gerrymandering. But he said the question of the trial is whether that means the map is a violation of the state constitution.

He said the plaintiffs presented testimony from several political scientists who all used different statistical tests that came to the same conclusion — the new state congressional maps are a result of racial and political gerrymandering.

• The case is heading to the Kansas Supreme Court

At one point in the proceedings, Klapper acknowledged the case was destined to be heard by the state’s highest court.

He called the case a “vehicle to get to the Supreme Court” where the justices will make a final ruling on whether gerrymandering is allowed under the Kansas Constitution.

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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