Much of Clean Missouri focuses on ethics reform in Jefferson City. The ballot measure, officially known as Amendment 1, would ban lobbyist gifts of more than $5, put limits on campaign contributions legislators can accept and require legislators to be subject to Missouri’s open records law.
But the piece of the proposal that will likely have the greatest impact on Missouri politics is also the aspect that is the most complicated and controversial. Amendment 1 would lead to major changes in the way Missouri goes about redistricting for the state legislature.
With the next redistricting scheduled to happen shortly after the 2020 U.S. Census, Amendment 1’s proposed changes to the process could lead to a Missouri Legislature that looks much different than the current one.
Supporters of the amendment say that many of Missouri’s current districts are noncompetitive and are drawn to favor the party in power. Through the system proposed in Amendment 1, they claim the process would become more transparent and give voters more choice.
But opponents claim that Amendment 1’s added criteria combined with the demographic makeup of the state are unrealistic and will lead to oddly shaped districts that elect representatives based on party more than community.
How redistricting currently works
Missouri has 34 Senate districts and 163 House districts, and in each category they are roughly equal in population.
The redistricting process is currently up to two bipartisan commissions appointed by the governor, according to the Missouri Office of Administration.
For the Senate, the two most popular political parties — Republicans and Democrats — give the governor a list of 10 nominees to serve on the commission. The governor selects five members from each list to create a 10-person team to draw the Senate map.
The process is similar in the House, except the two parties give a list of two potential commissioners from each congressional district for the governor to choose from. Because Missouri has eight congressional districts, a commission of 16 is responsible for drawing House district lines, according to the Missouri Office of Administration.
If one or both commissions can’t come to an agreement to draw the maps, the Missouri Supreme Court selects six appellate judges to draw them instead. This last happened during the 2000 redistricting cycle, according to Loyola Law School’s All About Redistricting project.
When the commissions draw their maps, they have to take only three requirements under consideration: Article III of the Missouri Constitution states that the districts must be equal in population, must be contiguous, and must be “compact as may be.”
How redistricting in Missouri would change under Amendment 1
Amendment 1, if passed, would lead to three major changes in the redistricting process in Missouri. It would change who gets the first opportunity to draw the maps, add additional criteria when drawing districts and add more transparency to the process.
In the current system, the bipartisan commissions appointed by the governor get the first opportunity to draw the maps for both the House and Senate. If Amendment 1 passes, that responsibility would instead fall to a “non-partisan state demographer.” The state auditor would give a list of qualified applicants to the majority and minority leaders in the Senate for approval, and if they can’t come to agreement, the candidate would be picked from among the finalists through a random lottery. The demographer cannot have been an elected official in the four years before or after being appointed to the position, according to Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 adds several new criteria to the district drawing process that the demographer would have to take in account. In the current process, the House and Senate commissions only have to account for equal population, contiguity and compactness. Amendment 1’s list of criteria is expanded:
- Districts should still be equal in population.
- Districts should not marginalize minority communities in the political process
- The overall map of districts should promote “partisan fairness and competitiveness.”
- Districts should be contiguous.
- Districts should follow political subdivisions as much as possible (county lines, city lines, etc.).
- Districts should be “compact in form.”
Clean Missouri spokesperson Benjamin Singer said the demographer would have to collectively take all criteria of the list into account while drawing the maps. However, lawyer Eddie Greim, who challenged Clean Missouri in court, said that there’s a loophole in the wording of the amendment that makes it so that certain requirements take precedence over others.
He said the language of Amendment 1 would force the demographer to prioritize drawing districts that account for partisan fairness and competitiveness before making sure that districts are contiguous and compact.
“You’re probably going to have some districts that aren’t even connected, or you’re going to have districts that look like one big circle in a city that’s connected to outlying areas along an interstate,” Greim said.
Yurij Rudensky, an expert on state legislature redistricting at New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice, has been following several of the redistricting ballot initiatives across the country, including Missouri’s. He said the added requirements for district drawing are important because the federal government currently isn’t acting as a voting rights watchdog and specifically noted the importance of having protections for racial minorities.
“It’s really significant that the Missouri proposal would create state-based protections,” Rudensky said. “The proposal amends the state constitution, and it’s a strong signal to the communities of color in Missouri that their voice is important and their ability to elect representatives is important.”
The amendment also requires the state demographer to calculate the average result of the last three presidential, gubernatorial and senatorial elections, to get an idea of the state’s partisan makeup.
Voters might be surprised to know that despite Republicans’ success in the most recent elections, the numbers are almost equal. For the elections from 2008-2016, 49.95 percent of votes were cast for Republicans and 50.05 percent were cast for Democrats, according to data from the Missouri Secretary of State.
Those numbers are subject to change as the next round of redistricting would account for the votes in the 2018 U.S. senate, 2020 gubernatorial and 2020 presidential elections in Missouri.
Along with this “partisan fairness index,” the demographer would also have to consider the amount of wasted votes to calculate an “efficiency gap.”
Wasted votes are defined as any votes cast for a losing candidates and as any votes cast for a winning candidate past the 50 percent threshold. In other words, the winning candidate would have won without needing those additional votes.
Amendment 1 says that the difference between the wasted votes divided by the total votes cast should be “as close to zero as practicable.” The idea is that this would help fight gerrymandering because planners couldn’t pack a few districts with one party’s voters, which would leave them greatly under-represented in others.
The map that comes out of the process would also have to account for shifting political preferences in favor of either party. Rudensky said that the demographer can do this by grouping communities with similar policy interests together, rather than grouping communities that guarantee victory for a certain party. In other words, a region’s political allegiances might change, but the key issues might not.
“There may be parts of the state where the most pressing issue is a specific industry,” Rudensky said. “When you join communities that share a specific set of interests together, then the politicians are competing with proposals that respond to those specific interests and the whole system becomes more responsive.
“When districts are drawn in a way that tries to label people, ‘Oh, this neighborhood is where the Democrats live, this is where the Republicans live,’ then you just get a hyper-partisan process,” Rudensky added.
Under Amendment 1, the bipartisan commissions selected by the governor would still have an opportunity to review the demographer’s map. However, in order to make any changes to it, at least 70 percent of either commission needs to come to agreement: Twelve members of the House committee or seven members of the Senate committee.
The judicial commission would be eliminated if Amendment 1 passes, which means that if the bipartisan commissions don’t make any changes, the demographer’s map is final, Singer said.
The data and calculation the demographer uses to make the maps also has to be turned over to the Secretary of State’s office, which means it is subject to be requested via the Sunshine Law. If citizens see that the data and maps don’t meet the criteria listed in Amendment 1, they have the opportunity to challenge the maps in court, Singer said.
What it means
In the Missouri Legislature, Republicans currently control more than two-thirds of the House and Senate, even though they’ve received less than half of the total votes in the last three presidential, gubernatorial and senatorial elections.
If Amendment 1 passes, that number could change drastically. Even if the candidates from either party sweep the next senatorial, gubernatorial and presidential elections by 500,000 votes each, the partisan fairness index would only swing in either direction by around 3 percent. For reference, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Missouri by more than 500,000 votes in the 2016 election.
Greim said there is a danger in attempting to make the legislature reflect the total partisan leanings of the state, especially if Amendment 1 leads to oddly-shaped districts. That’s because if a large group of one party’s voters live in a concentrated area, they would likely need to be spread among several districts to achieve balance.
“When you draw really crazy districts, at that point, a person really cannot be said to represent a certain interest, a certain region, a certain community. What they’re really doing is they’re representing a party,” Greim said. “It’s just random what geographic areas would be cobbled together just to be able to elect them.”
Missouri isn't alone in reconsidering the way it draws districts. In the 2018 midterm elections alone, five states are trying to pass ballot initiatives to reform redistricting: Missouri, Colorado, Michigan and Utah, according to the Brennan Center. Rudensky said that he’s seen lots of bipartisan and grassroots support building around the issue.
“It’s a desire to reclaim government by the people and go back to the higher ideals the framers had in mind when setting this system up,” Rudensky said. “And of course, the next round of redistricting is coming up. So in order to help stem the proliferation of gerrymandering, it’s clear that new rules are necessary. So now’s the time.”
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, firstname.lastname@example.org.