In 2018, Missouri voters across the political spectrums successfully passed an amendment to the Missouri Constitution addressing legislative ethics reforms.
The amendment, a product of the bipartisan organization Clean Missouri Initiative, limited campaign contributions, banned paid lobbyist gifts of more than $5 and enacted a new system for drawing electoral districts to produce competitive elections.
Although that amendment was overwhelmingly supported by 62% of Missouri voters, earlier this year a majority faction of General Assembly legislators proposed a different amendment. That measure will appear on the Nov. 3 general election ballot as Amendment 3.
Amendment 3 proposes to reduce the lobbying gift limit from paid lobbyists by only a few dollars and lowers the contribution limit to state senate candidates by only $100 — a 4% reduction from present law. That is hardly a reform at all.
The main thing that Amendment 3 would accomplish is to undo the redistricting reforms that voters approved in 2018.
Clean Missouri assigned responsibility for drawing state district lines to a nonpartisan state demographer and detailed a process now written in the state constitution to insulate the demographer from partisan influence to a substantial extent. This diminished the potential for gerrymandering — when partisan politicians draw their own legislative boundaries in order to remain in power.
Amendment 3 repeals the position of nonpartisan state demographer, reassigns the responsibility for drawing electoral districts to legislative commissions and relegates partisan fairness to the bottom of the criteria used to draw new maps.
I am deeply troubled by Amendment 3. Here’s why:
1. Voters overwhelmingly supported Clean Missouri, including in Boone County, where the measure passed by more than 72%. The 51,878 of us who supported the amendment were effectively told by our state senator that our votes didn’t matter when he voted to place an amendment on the ballot repealing what we had told him we wanted. There is something terribly wrong about this. Legislators are asked to serve temporarily as the voices of the people they represent; our senator was not our voice.
The fact is that Amendment 3 was proposed not by the people, who wanted to get politics out of the redistricting effort, but by the General Assembly, who want the Clean Missouri amendment repealed in order to increase their control over the redistricting process, benefitting themselves.
2. Amendment 3 plays fast and loose with the truth. It calls the new committees to replace the nonpartisan state demographer “House/Senate independent bipartisan citizens commission.” Calling these “independent” suggests that the committees will operate at arms-length from lawmakers and party officials. Nope. The redistricting commissions will be selected by the governor from pools of nominees put forth by the state’s political parties. It is not citizen-led, either, because a citizen-led redistricting process would exclude highly connected insiders. It is pernicious to mislead voters to believe that the process Amendment 3 proposes is “citizen-led” and “independent” when it is neither.
The General Assembly wrote a summary statement for the ballot, which has already been rewritten by the courts. The summary, the court found, failed to “adequately inform” voters of the purpose of the amendment, mischaracterized “the membership and operations of the commission” and falsely implied that standards the legislators wrote about in the new amendment were new, rather than things already existing in current law.
Legislative proponents of Amendment 3 have shown an unwillingness to provide accurate, complete and clear information. This puts a special burden on voters to learn what’s actually in Amendment 3 before they cast their ballots.
3. The primary argument for Clean Missouri in 2018 was that drawing district lines based on partisan needs led to uncompetitive races that protected incumbents at the expense of accountability. That’s why Clean Missouri made “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” priorities in the map-drawing process. Amendment 3 relegates those criteria approved by the voters in 2018 to the lowest possible level. It is also very specific in how much voting manipulation can occur. It says that the “efficiency gap” — the way of quantifying and identifying partisanship in elections — “shall not exceed 15%.” The new amendment, if passed, puts “no limit whatsoever on lawmakers’ impulses and ability to engage in partisan gerrymandering,” according to a bipartisan group of former legislators. The proposed amendment also makes it harder to challenge a gerrymandered district in court.
In Missouri, decennial redistricting takes place in 2021 after the 2020 census is completed. In the November election, voters will decide the rules of redistricting. I know which way I’m going to vote. I believe firmly in government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” I’m going to vote ‘No’ on Amendment 3.
Lois Shelton is a Columbia resident who previously served on the Missourian Readers Board.