Amendment 3 on next week’s election ballot should be defeated because it restores more political influence in the redistricting process and reduces the standard by which political competitiveness is measured.
Amendment 3 would undo changes to the redistricting process passed by voters in 2018 by a 62% to 38% margin.
Amendment 3 is critical because it will affect the way Missouri legislative and congressional districts are drawn using the 2020 census data in time for the 2022 elections.
The constitutional change in 2018 created the position of a nonpartisan state demographer to be selected by the Senate majority and minority leaders from a list prepared by the state auditor. The state demographer would be responsible for proposing redistricting maps that achieve the reasonable standards of similar size, nondiscriminatory racial makeup, contiguous, preserving ethnic communities and be as politically competitive “as is practicable.”
This year’s Amendment 3 would restore party politics by restoring the role of the governor in appointing “bipartisan” House, Senate and U.S. Congress redistricting commissions that need to be bipartisan in that there would be both Republican and Democrats on the commissions. Unfortunately, such bipartisan approaches always seem to coincide with some politically motivated sweetheart deals.
The single best opinion piece about Amendment 3 is former U.S. Senator John Danforth’s piece, written in May.
I remember that in 2018, Danforth was part of “Republicans for Amendment 1,” which included several formal Republican state senators, including Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, Bob Johnson of Lee’s Summit and Marvin Singleton of Joplin, whose perspectives are now probably less politically short-sighted than when they were still involved in partisan politics.
Danforth describes very well the advantages of having political competition that gives voters a real choice. Without competitive districts, one party or the other has a “safe district,” where it is easier for the extreme fringe of the party in control to elect an extreme Democrat of Republican. The net result is that it contributes to the hyper-partisanship we see today.
Across the U.S., legislative gerrymandering is a bipartisan issue — i.e. both parties do it. It is a majority-minority issue, not a Republican-Democratic issue. The majority party wants to stay in the majority and will draw legislative districts to achieve its goal.
“Packing” and “cracking” are the historical terms of art involved. “Pack” all the opposing party’s voters into a small number of districts and “crack” open a concentration of opposing voters to spread them out, rendering them politically weak.
Either way, the goal of gerrymandering is to maximize the majority’s legislative seats given the proportion of the party’s constituent strength. Votes above and beyond what is necessary to win the seat — usually 50% plus 1 — are “wasted votes” in that they could have been moved to another district.
The 2018 Amendment 1 requires that “wasted votes” be as close to zero as possible, thus maximizing political competition.
This year’s Amendment 3 replaces the “close to zero” requirement with a 15% leeway, thus allowing the seeds of gerrymandering.
The more I read about 2020’s Amendment 3, the more it smells. I use the term “stealth politics,” but others call it a “trojan horse” or “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Some people call it “politics as usual.” Rather than directly proposing that 2018 Amendment 1 be overturned, the ballot measure reimposing the previous “Bipartisan Redistricting Commission” changes their name to “Independent Commissions” and places two minor issues out front.
Amendment 3 tempts voters with banning lobbyist gifts, which are already banned if over $5, and pretending to “strengthen campaign finance laws” by reducing contributions by $100. Different language in this year’s amendment may also open the door for legal disputes about who should be counted for redistricting: voters or all citizens.
Amendment 3 has the markings of misleading language intended to distort the will of the people as demonstrated in 2018 Amendment 1 that established a more non-partisan process for redistricting.
Legislative redistricting is a critical issue that shapes how the legislature operates until the next decennial census, but it is an issue that few citizens think about. States use a variety of processes that differ from Missouri’s traditional approach that would be reimposed if Amendment 3 passes.
Rather than trying to overturn the 2018 Amendment 1 to restore the politics of redistricting, sponsors of the Amendment 3 would have served the public more had they looked at the success in states that use judicial commissions or citizen commissions.
The simplest approach may be Iowa, whose non-partisan staff is forbidden to use partisan data in proposing a state redistricting map for legislative approval.
Rejecting Amendment 3 is critical because there is no legal recourse by which politically drawn maps can be challenged.
Aside from the principle “one person, one vote” requiring that legislative districts “be of as equal in size as is practicable” — except, of course, for the U.S. Senate — the courts have largely refused to rule on challenges to state’s legislative redistricting plans, calling them “political issues, not judicial issues.”
The Supreme Court reaffirmed this in 2019 with Chief Justice Roberts writing: “Excessive partisanship in districting leads to results that reasonably seem unjust. ... The districting plans at issue here are highly partisan, by any measure. The question is whether the courts below appropriately exercised judicial power when they found them unconstitutional as well.”
In a 5-4 decision, Roberts continued the practice of keeping the courts out of “political issues.”
Restoring our political system to a more civil, collaborative process will require dozens of small changes. A less partisan redistricting process is one of them. Missouri voters should reject Amendment 3.