Missouri Lawmakers Poised to Undo Redistricting Reform Passed by Voters

Issues
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Wide shot of the interior of the Missouri legislature from above
The Missouri Legislature in the State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri on January 17, 2017. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Elections should be determined by voters, not politicians drawing maps. But some Missouri lawmakers are still trying to go against the voters’ will and rig the 2021 redistricting to protect incumbent politicians. This is part of a devious long-term strategy to further divide voters and undermine the principles of representative democracy.

In 2018, 62% of Missourians voted to pass the Clean Missouri amendment. The Clean Missouri amendment increases fairness, accountability, integrity, and transparency in Missouri politics. The amendment transfers the power of drawing legislative districts away from lobbyists and political consultants and gives it to a nonpartisan state demographer, whose work is then reviewed by a citizens commission. This helps to remove the inherent conflict of interest when political appointees can choose their voters to advance their partisan or special interests.

This year, Missouri lawmakers have advanced a new proposed constitutional amendment that would disregard the voters’ will and plan to gut the Clean Missouri amendment. Their plan would make it easier for lobbyists and political consultants to get away with extreme partisan gerrymandering by allowing so many votes to be wasted that a party can take 65% of the legislative seats while receiving less than 50% of the votes statewide.

Further, under this plan, Missourians would be stripped of their constitutional rights to fair legislative maps since the proposal shuts the door to legal challenges. So not only would it be easier to gerrymander, it would be harder for citizens to have their day in court and fight back against rigged maps. 

Specifically, the new bill would give state political parties new power to appoint map makers, protect incumbent lawmakers in safe districts so that voters cannot hold them accountable, allow lobbyists and political operatives to draw some of the most polarizing district lines in the country, and limit what judges can do if legislative districts break state law requirements.

Some estimates suggest that up to 90% of the state’s legislative districts have already been rendered uncompetitive, which has contributed to partisanship while disempowering a majority of Missouri’s voters. This new bill would only fuel “more partisanship and extreme politics than ever,” as Missouri State Senator John Danforth – who opposes the bill’s passage – explained in a recent op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The proposal would also allow Missouri to become the only state in the country that creates legislative districts based off the citizen voting-age population rather than the overall population, which would disproportionately hurt people of color. While 1 in 5 white Missourians are children, 1 in 4 African American Missourians, and 1 in 3 Latinx Missourians are children. 

If this bill were to pass, Missouri would backslide to an even worse place than it was before and would be allowed to become one of the most severely gerrymandered states in the country.

Missouri lawmakers should join the bipartisan coalition that opposes this bill. Elections should be determined by Missouri’s voters, not politicians drawing maps. Every Missourian deserves a chance to have their voice heard, vote in free and fair elections, and choose lawmakers who truly represent them.

Georgia is the 2020 CLC Communications Fellow