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Olathe woman files federal suit over redistricting

TOPEKA (AP) -- A Kansas woman filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday over the state Legislature's failure so far to redraw the state's political boundaries.

Robyn Renee Essex, a resident of the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, argues in the lawsuit that the state's existing political boundaries violate her constitutional rights because they haven't been adjusted yet to account for changes in population during the past decade.

One of Essex's attorneys, Brent Haden, of Columbia, Mo., is a former chief of staff to Kansas House Speaker Mike O'Neal, a Hutchinson Republican.

The lawsuit names Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state's chief elections officer, as the defendant. Legislators have been told by Kobach and others that the maps need to be completed by May 11 and sent to the courts for approval to avoid delaying the June filing deadline and Aug. 7 primary.

In the lawsuit, Essex expressed doubt that legislators will be able to break a stalemate on redistricting. She suggests one option would be for a panel of three federal judges to set new legislative and congressional districts.

Senators approved a map redrawing their districts Tuesday on a 21-19 vote, which collapsed a district in western Kansas and created a new one in Johnson County. The House rejected the map Wednesday because, among other reasons, the new boundaries in western Kansas diluted minority votes.

The underlying issue in the standoff between the two chambers has been Republican infighting, specifically conservative House incumbents who have filed to challenge moderate Senate leaders in the August primary. Initial Senate maps were drawn that excluded the challengers from the incumbents' districts.

Legislators have been expecting the differences between the House and Senate leadership over redistricting ultimately would land the process in state or federal court. The Senate has appropriated $500,000 to hire attorneys to defend its actions, while the House has included $2 million in its budget.