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Effort to Undo Anti-Gerrymandering Initiative in Missouri

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Effort to Undo Anti-Gerrymandering Initiative in Missouri

2020-06-16T17:32:29-05:00

Clean Missouri, an anti-corruption organization that helped deliver anti-gerrymandering reforms in 2018, finds itself defending this legislation once again, as state Republicans target the reforms in a November ballot amendment. It is yet another example of efforts to push back on in-roads made by citizen advocacy groups on systemic problems related to voting rights.

Before the Clean Missouri reform effort passed with 62% of the vote in 2018, Missouri had two state commissions that drew district lines according to these rules:

  • The Senate commission must be comprised of five Republicans and five Democrats selected by the political parties’ state committees
  • The House commission must be comprised of eight Republicans and eight Democrats selected by the political parties’ congressional district committees
  • 70% of the commissioners needed to support a redistricting map in order for the map to be enacted[1]

In 2018, Clean Missouri worked to get statewide support for an amendment that created a nonpartisan, neutral demographer position in charge of drawing the new voting district boundaries. The boundaries are to be based foremost on a mathematical formula that calculates partisan fairness and competitiveness – the first time a fairness calculation has been included in a US redistricting bill.

The amendment also specified that the state demographer will be selected from an applicant pool, with the state auditor, Senate majority leader and Senate minority leader involved in the selection.  The demographer will begin work after the 2020 census data is reported, with new mapmaking due in 2021.

The demographer’s map will be filed with the existing commissions, which can amend it if there is a 70% agreement vote among the commissioners. If the commissions do not recommend  changes or fail to approve changes to the demographer’s map, then the demographer’s map will be enacted.

Republican legislators who were unhappy with the 2018 amendment, however, developed a counter-amendment that passed in the House by a vote of 98-56 in May.  The approved amendment for the Nov. 3 ballot, sponsored by State Representative Dean Plocher (R) and State Senator Dan Hegeman (R) would remove the nonpartisan demographer and return power to the two partisan commissions, which would be renamed the House Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission and the Senate Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission, respectively. The membership of each commission would be modified such that each commission would consist of 20 members each, to be appointed by the governor from lists provided by the state committee and congressional district committees.

It also downplays the 2018 amendment’s partisan fairness and competitiveness stipulations and returns to favoring compact districts. The new Republican amendment would alter the partisan fairness calculation in a manner that gives it leeway to be more partisan and less fair.

The amendment to be voted on this fall goes so far beyond returning gerrymandering to its 2018 level that it prompted former US Senator John Danforth (R) to write in a column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “In the midst of the current public health crisis, our state Legislature is seeking to place a new constitutional amendment on an upcoming ballot. It would overturn voter-approved redistricting reforms before they could ever take effect. Instead, it would substitute a redistricting scheme more extreme than Missouri has ever seen.”

John Danforth prefers the Clean Missouri anti-gerrymandering reform

The Republican proposal would replace and undo important, nonpartisan aspects of the new rules passed by Missouri voters in 2018. “This [ballot effort in 2020] is a case of subverting legislation through legislation,” said Ellen Moorhouse, deputy communications director of RepresentUs, a grassroots anti-corruption organization that tracks anti-gerrymandering and other voting rights progress nationwide.

Clean Missouri has filed suit in the state capital area, Cole County, to change ballot language, which they report is misleading and contains critical omissions. The missing language would inform voters of the extent to which the new amendment undermines the one passed two years ago.

As of this writing, the ballot reads:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

  • The Senate commission must be comprised of five Republicans and five Democrats selected by the political parties’ state committees
  • The House commission must be comprised of eight Republicans and eight Democrats selected by the political parties’ congressional district committees
  • 70% of the commissioners needed to support a redistricting map in order for the map to be enacted
  • Sean Nicholson, who was a leader in the 2018 Clean Missouri campaign, said he believes voters will reject the Republicans’ amendment proposal. At least one current Republican state legislator agrees with that assessment.”

The ballot language fails to mention the removal of the nonpartisan demographer role and neglects to specify the change in how partisan fairness and competitiveness would be calculated.

Sean Nicholson, who was a leader in the 2018 Clean Missouri campaign, said he believes voters will reject the Republicans’ amendment proposal. At least one current Republican state legislator agrees with that assessment.

“This will go down in flames if this is on the ballot,” predicted Representative Rocky Miller (R).

According to data from RepresentUs, Missouri is one of 10 states in which major campaigns to make their voter redistricting more neutral are underway, in a highly partisan national climate. Recently, Michigan had to defend a voter-approved amendment to implement nonpartisan anti-gerrymandering measures. In April, RepresentUs and other groups  filed amicus briefs in a Michigan Federal Appeals Court case that affirmed a district court ruling allowing the electorate’s decision to implement  a nonpartisan commission. Individual plaintiffs and the state Republican party had filed for an injunction against implementing the new  Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which a Michigan district court had denied.

While nonpartisan redistricting efforts are hitting roadblocks in states like Missouri and Michigan, organizations that  back reforms continue to fight for fairness as they work with citizens, legislators, and courts to eliminate heavily partisan voting districts.

Related Problem: Voting Rights

Written by Mary Jane Gore

Published on June 16, 2020

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Sources

RepresentUs, Major 2020 Campaigns, Nonpartisan Political Reform, 2020, https://represent.us/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/actionmap.pdf, accessed May 30, 2020

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Nos. 19-2377/2420, Decision, Apr 15, 2020, https://www.commoncause.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/6th-Circuit-Opinion-Daunt-MRPvBenson.pdf, accessed Jun 4, 2020

Clean Missouri, “Amendment 1 is Cleaning up Missouri Politics”, undated webpage, https://www.cleanmissouri.org/solution/, accessed May 20, 2020

John C. Danforth, “Let’s stick with ‘Clean Missouri’”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 2020, https://www.stltoday.com/opinion/columnists/john-c-danforth-let-s-stick-with-clean-missouri/article_ba04c0c5-37dc-54fb-9ddf-dc37c0e6a7e6.html, accessed Jun 1, 2020

Ballotpedia, “Missouri Amendment 1, Lobbying, Campaign Finance and Redistricting Initiative (2018), undated, https://ballotpedia.org/Missouri_Amendment_1,_Lobbying,_Campaign_Finance,_and_Redistricting_Initiative_(2018), accessed May 30, 2020

Ballotpedia, “Missouri Redistricting Process and Criteria, Lobbying, and Campaign Finance Amendment (2020)”, undated, https://ballotpedia.org/Missouri_Redistricting_Process_and_Criteria,_Lobbying,_and_Campaign_Finance_Amendment_(2020)#cite_note-Text-2, accessed May 30, 2020

David A Lieb,  “Missouri first to adopt fairness test against gerrymandering”, Associated Press, Dec 2, 2018, https://apnews.com/c49a2cf375894f539ca4aad5aafc6a74, accessed Jun 4, 2020

Summer Ballentine, “Missouri Lawmakers send new redistricting proposal to lawmakers”, Associated Press in the Rolla Daily News, May 13, 2020 https://www.therolladailynews.com/news/20200513/missouri-lawmakers-send-new-redistricting-proposal-to-voters, accessed Jun 3, 2020

Missouri Senate, Bill SJR 38, “Modifies provisions regulating the legislature to limit the influence of partisan or other special interests”, May 13, 2020  https://www.senate.mo.gov/20info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=26838179, May 20, 2020

Kermit Miller, “Voters to decide whether or not to overturn ‘Clean Missouri” redistricting plan”, 13KRCG TV, May 15, 2020, https://krcgtv.com/news/local/missouri-voters-will-get-a-chance-to-undo-clean-missouri-redistricting-amendment, accessed May 20, 2020

Austin Huguelet, “GOP lawmaker on Clean Missouri do-over: ‘This will go down in flames’”, Springfield News-Leader, May 11, 2020, https://www.news-leader.com/story/news/politics/2020/05/11/gop-lawmaker-predicts-doom-clean-mo-do-over/3109799001/, accessed May 20, 2020

Jason Hancock, “Repeal of Missouri redistricting plan clears hurdle despite concerns of key Republican”, Kansas City Star, May 11, 2020, https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article242648026.html, accessed May 19, 2020

Ellen Moorhouse, deputy director of communications for RepresentUs, telephone interview on May 6, 2020

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