COLUMBIA — The hotly debated Trial D reapportionment plan would likely boost potential re-election bids for the current city councilmen of two wards, according to a Columbia Missourian analysis of precinct-level vote counts from April’s municipal election.
The plan would shift hundreds of voters who supported the current council member’s opponents out of the Third and Fourth wards, the analysis showed.
Trial D, as the plan is known, would move precincts 4F and 4I out of the Fourth Ward and into the First, expanding that ward's boundaries west and south toward West and Stadium boulevards.
Those precincts were particularly unkind to Fourth Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley. In April’s election, they gave 73 votes to Dudley and 512 votes to his opponents. He won only 12 percent of the vote in those precincts, by far his worst showing of any precincts. By comparison, his next worst-performing precinct garnered him about 20 percent of the vote.
In addition to all of precincts 4F and 4I, Trial D would also see the northeastern portion of precinct 4E transferred to the First Ward. Precinct 4E was Dudley’s third worst-performing precinct, where he received about 21 percent of the vote, or 131 out of 631 votes cast in the four-person race. Of course, it’s impossible to know how that vote broke down within the precinct. That portion of the precinct might or might not have followed the rest of the precinct’s voting pattern.
The Third Ward would see half of precinct 3D — the area popularly known as Benton-Stephens, bounded by College Avenue to the west, Old 63 to the east, the railroad tracks to the north and Broadway to the south — removed to the First Ward. Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl lost the combined 3D and 3B voting precincts to Karl Skala by a two-to-one margin, 206 to 429. That makes those his worst performing precincts, about four percentage points worse than his results in the sparsely-populated central precinct.
The choice of these precincts for transfer out of the Third and Fourth wards has raised the ire of local residents who have claimed the conservative Dudley and Kespohl are seeking to pack liberal votes into the already progressive First Ward, thus securing easier re-election bids for themselves.
Jeremy Root, an attorney in Columbia who has spoken in opposition to Trial D, said the plan is an obvious case of gerrymandering.
"I think that the data are pretty clear,” Root said about the precinct voting patterns. “4F and 4I are clearly the least support that (Dudley) received in any area of the existing Fourth Ward.”
He also said, “(The councilmen's) denial of the intent of partisan reapportionment does not deny the fact of partisan reapportionment that will occur if Trial D is passed."
Both councilmen have repeatedly denied any political motivation for their support for Trial D. They could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Dudley in particular has said that consolidating all central city neighborhoods into one ward would give central city residents a stronger voice in local government.
In 1991, this was a main reason given for creating the First Ward in the central city area, a previous article reported.
Kespohl said in a previous article that combining the Benton-Stephens area with the First Ward could encourage stronger voter participation in that area.
He also said keeping the central city together would make it simpler to address the needs of that area.
Jeannette Jackson-Thompson, Park Hill Neighborhood Association vice president and Fourth Ward resident, said the council members aren’t listening to their constituents.
“Virtually all the neighborhood associations in Ward Four and some in Ward Two and some in Ward Three oppose Trial D,” she said. “The only conclusion you can draw is there is a political motive behind this.”
Both Root and Jackson-Thompson are among those supporting an effort to recall Dudley over his support for the reapportionment plan. If successful, the effort would mark the first recall of a city council member since 1990.
The council is scheduled to vote for one of the proposed maps at a meeting Monday night.