Two years ago, Missourians passed a constitutional amendment called “Clean Missouri” by a wide margin.
Roughly 62 percent of voters said “yes” to the plan for stricter limits on campaign contributions, a $5 cap on lobbyist gifts to legislators, and a new way of drawing the districts those legislators represent.
Today, they’ll decide whether they really meant that last part about the districts.
A little explanation: prior to 2018, Missouri’s redistricting rules required the maps to be drawn by half-Republican, half-Democratic committees appointed by the governor.
The rules also required the districts to be “compact” and “contiguous” — no picking and choosing disconnected pockets of voters and calling it a district.
If the commissions deadlocked on a map, the rules said appellate judges should take over, and they did multiple times.
Under those rules, some felt the maps were unfairly tilted toward Republicans, who won an average of 57 percent of the two-party vote across 163 House districts but took 71 percent of the seats.
Basically, the argument from critics was that the maps led voters to elect a legislature that was more Republican than they were.
The maps also featured a sizable number of “safe” districts that virtually guaranteed one party or the other would always win.
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Clean Missouri made two big changes to chip away at that imbalance.
The first big change introduced a “nonpartisan state demographer” to do the first draft of the new maps independently of the partisan commissions.
The old bipartisan commissions still review the demographer’s drafts, which will also be released to the public, but they can’t make changes unless 70 percent of the commission agrees.
The second big change required the map drawers to prioritize producing more competitive elections and an assembly that better reflects statewide votes.
That’s big because the two parties have been far more evenly matched in races for governor and U.S. Senate than they have been in the Republican-dominated legislature.
Districts still have to be “compact” and “contiguous,” but “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” come first.
Clean Missouri’s efforts
Now, drawing maps to produce more competitive races and an assembly that better reflects the state as a whole might have sounded nice to voters, but it also threatens Republican supermajorities, which quickly set to work on a rollback plan: Amendment 3.
If approved by voters today, Amendment 3 would eliminate the demographer position and put concerns about competitive elections and the legislature reflecting statewide votes on the back burner.
The old bipartisan commissions would again take center stage along with “compact” and “contiguous” districts.
The amendment would also bring back the judges to take over if the commissions deadlock.
Republicans say this is necessary to prevent the rise of “spaghetti string” districts combining urban, suburban and rural areas that will result from Clean Missouri’s efforts to make races more competitive.
Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, who sponsored the plan in the Legislature, said at a recent forum that such districts would split up communities and rob them of real representation.
Clean Missouri backers say this is nonsense, and point to an analysis that Sam Wang, who studies gerrymandering at Princeton, did in 2018.
“This can all be done without drawing crazy shapes,” Wang said at the time. “All in all, it makes government more responsive without necessarily distorting the geography or partisan tendencies of Missouri.”
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. today and results will begin rolling out after everyone in line at 7 p.m. has voted.
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Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader’s politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at email@example.com.