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Document: Missouri Amendment 3

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In May, less than two years after voters passed Clean Missouri, state legislators put a plan to overturn their choice on the ballot.

Amendment 3 would change the redistricting process, which voters approved in 2018.

But opponents to the amendment say it is presented in a way intended to deceive voters and protect incumbent politicians.

About two-thirds of Missouri voters approved Clean Missouri in November 2018.

If Amendment 3 passes, rather than having a nonpartisan state demographer, which voters chose, the responsibility for drawing state legislative districts would fall to a governor-appointed bipartisan commission under new rules proposed in Amendment 3.

If passed in November, the amendment would also modify criteria for redrawing legislative districts. It would change the process for redrawing state legislative districts, which would be done to equalize populations among them.

Sean Nicholson and Elsa Rainey, of the Clean Missouri campaign, said Amendment 3 would centralize control of redistricting and "gut or change the rules that govern what constitutes a fair map."

"One of the most controversial (changes) is they want to change who they even count in the population for when maps are drawn," Nicholson said. "They want to draw maps based on the eligible voting population."

There is no reason Missouri should be the first state to draw its map that way, he continued.

"It's a dreadful idea," he said.

State Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, was one of 96 representatives who voted to create Amendment 3.

It is true supporters of Clean Missouri said it would stop gerrymandering, Walsh said, but she worries it would do the opposite.

Clean Missouri says "districts shall be designed in a manner that achieves both partisan fairness and, secondarily, competitiveness," Walsh pointed out.

Opponents of Clean Missouri worry the law forces the demographer to create "50/50" districts, which would force that person to draw strange gerrymandered maps, she said.

"Partisan fairness/equal efficiency/competitiveness is where the 50/50 districts generalization is derived from," Walsh said. "I visited at length with representatives from urban communities on the freshman tour, and they were equally concerned (as are representatives of rural communities) about losing the voice of the people they represent in the Legislature if urban and rural communities are sliced up to equalize districts statewide."

Rather than having a nonpartisan state demographer, which voters approved as part of Clean Missouri, the responsibility for drawing state legislative districts would fall to an appointed bipartisan commission under new rules proposed in Amendment 3.

The state demographer may be considered nonpartisan, Walsh said, but the person who chooses the demographer — the state auditor — is not.

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Under Clean Missouri, the auditor receives applications for state demographer and selects the top three to present to the state Senate's majority and minority leaders, who must agree on the applicant. If they don't agree, they each provide several names for consideration.

If passed in November, the amendment would reduce limits on campaign contributions that candidates for state senator can accept from individuals by $100 per election (from $2,500 to $2,400). It would not change contribution limits for state representatives.

The current dollar limit for gifts lobbyists present to state legislators and their employees is $5. The amendment would prohibit the gifts.

Many of the changes, such as campaign contribution limits, are smoke screens, according to opponents to the amendment.

The deceptions continued into August, Rainey said, when Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce ordered authors to write a new description statement for ballots because the offered statement was misleading.

Typically, the Missouri Secretary of State's Office writes the ballot language for measures. But legislative leaders provided the summary for Amendment 3.

Joyce ordered officials to change the language because it failed to "even allude to" repeal of the voter-approved rules for redistricting.

It focused on a ban of all lobbyists' gifts for lawmakers and employees, which is something that the measure would hardly affect, Rainey said.

"You've had two courts saying that what the Legislature tried to do broke the law," Nicholson said. "They know that this cannot stand up on its own."

Besides Walsh, several other Mid-Missouri lawmakers supported Senate Joint Resolution 38, which created the ballot measure, while others opposed it.

State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, and Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, both voted in favor of the resolution. In 2018, 55.5 percent of people in Bernskoetter's district supported Clean Missouri. More than 60 percent in Riddle's district did.

Bernskoetter told the News Tribune that redistricting changes in the amendment "sounded pleasant on the surface, but in reality, they will result in a gerrymandering practice usually referred to as a 'cracking' scheme." He said the resulting districts will be oddly shaped and will "dilute the voting power of rural Missourians."

Although more than 60 percent of Riddle's constituents voted in favor of Clean Missouri, she said they have approached her with concerns about the new law.

"Over the past two years, I have heard numerous concerns from my constituents regarding the redistricting aspect of Clean Missouri," Riddle said. "If enacted, I fear the new redistricting process outlined in Clean Missouri will have a drastic effect on the residents of the 10th Senatorial District. If my district was redrawn under the guidelines of Clean Missouri, I believe the composition of the 10th Senatorial District would change in a way that would result in my rural and suburban constituents losing representation in the state Capitol that reflects their views and concerns."

State Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, and Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, both opposed the resolution, despite party support for it.

Like other legislation, Clean Missouri is flawed, Veit said. But his constituents supported it.

Veit said he might have supported SJR 14, which he believes has value, but lawmakers should have taken time to reach out to voters and discuss with them their concerns over Clean Missouri.

Veit said he didn't support the resolution because "it would appear that we in the House were overriding the vote of the people without explanation."

Griffith also said he had a few issues with Clean Missouri. But his conscience wouldn't allow him to overturn something constituents had passed.

And, when it came time for lawmakers to vote, Griffith reviewed county records, which showed that more than 60 percent of voters in Cole County supported Clean Missouri.

"If it would have been closer, then I might have voted differently," Griffith said. "But when I had more than 60 percent who voted for it, I couldn't go against their vote."

The amendment requires a simple majority of votes to pass.

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