Judges redo voter summary of Missouri redistricting measure

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri appeals court panel on Monday rewrote a summary for voters describing a November ballot measure that would revamp the state’s nationally unique model for drawing fair and competitive legislative districts.

At issue is the summary of a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot that would repeal parts of a redistricting measure voters approved just two years ago.

As originally written by the Republican-led Legislature, the ballot summary for Amendment 3 makes no mention of any repeal.

The appeals court ruled that the original description “fails to acknowledge what SJR 38 would actually do – substantially modify, and reorder, the redistricting criteria approved by voters in the November 2018 general election.”

“We believe that voters need to be informed that they are being asked to reconsider, and substantially modify, a measure which they only recently approved,” according to the ruling written by Judge Alok Ahuja.

Summaries of proposed policy changes are included on Missouri ballots to help voters understand measures that can be highly technical and confusing as written.

The appeals court changed the description of the redistricting proposal to explain that it would: “change the redistricting process voters approved in 2018 by transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the Nonpartisan State Demographer to Governor-appointed bipartisan commissions,” as well as change and reorder criteria used to redraw districts.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which is defending lawmakers’ original ballot summary, said the office likely will appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The 2018 redistricting initiative, approved by a 62% vote, made Missouri the first state to require a new nonpartisan demographer to draw state House and Senate districts to achieve “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” as determined by a specific mathematical formula. An AP analysis shows the formula is likely to lead to Democratic gains in 2022 while dropping Republican majorities closer to the more even partisan division often reflected in statewide races.

The Legislature’s revision would repeal the nonpartisan demographer position and relegate “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” to the bottom of the criteria list behind such things as compact districts that keep communities intact. It also would expand a pair of existing bipartisan redistricting commissions and make them responsible for drawing district boundaries, as was the case in the past.

Like the 2018 measure, the Legislature’s revision combines the redistricting changes with popular measures to lower campaign contribution limits and restrict lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.

The ballot summary written by the Legislature said a “yes” vote would “ban all lobbyist gifts.” The appeals court tweaked that to note it would ban gifts only from paid lobbyists.

The appeals court also reinstated lawmakers’ description that the ballot measure would “reduce legislative campaign contribution limits.”