Missouri redistricting efforts hit snags in Legislature

December 24, 2021 GMT

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A House panel on Thursday agreed on two tentative plans for redrawing Missouri’s state legislative districts, while the Senate panel remained deadlocked and failed to act.

House and Senate commissions, divided evenly between Republicans and Democrats, faced a Thursday deadline to tentatively redraw districts based on new census data.

The Senate panel struggled to agree to continue negotiating and eventually gave up entirely, adjourning without taking action.

Plus, the House panel’s decision to double up with two maps could mean a court battle.

Senate commissioner Susan Montee, the former Democratic state auditor, proposed following the House’s lead and submitting two Senate district maps. She questioned whether Senate commissioners could reach an agreement by the deadline without submitting separate Republican and Democratic maps, which proved true.

“I just don’t know that we would ever be able to get to that point tonight,” she said.

Several Republicans, including the Senate commission chairman, questioned the constitutionality of sending in two maps when the Constitution calls for “a tentative redistricting plan and map of the proposed districts” by December.

“What the Constitution says is plain and clear: one map,” Ellinger said.

Former Missouri Solicitor General Jim Layton, who was involved in Missouri’s past two redistricting efforts, said he’s never heard of a commission proposing two tentative plans before.

Still, he said the courts might accept the method if the House commission is able to agree on a final plan before the January deadline.

“They met their constitutional obligation to provide a plan,” Layton said. “And now the real question is in the next 30 days, can they come up with one that gets a (successful) vote?”

If the commissions fail to vote on a final plan by Jan. 23, the Missouri Supreme Court is responsible for picking a panel of six judges to take up the task.

Judges had to draw Missouri’s House maps in 2011 and 2001 after commissioners failed to agree on a plan. Judges also had to draw Senate maps every decade since the 1980s, though their 2011 map got overturned by the state Supreme Court. After the court ruling, a second bipartisan commission was formed and completed the Senate redistricting in 2012.

Commissioners face different guidelines for redrawing districts this year.

A constitutional amendment approved by voters last year diminished the potential to carve up sparsely populated counties. It places a priority on keeping counties and municipalities intact in districts, relegating partisan fairness and competitiveness to a lower priority than had originally been approved in a separate 2018 constitutional amendment.

The Republican and Democratic House redistricting plans differ on how to divide Boone County, home of Columbia, and Greene County, home of Springfield. In both cases, the urban cores of those cities include more Democratic voters while the rest of those counties include more Republican voters. Most of the Senate disagreements centered on those areas as well.

The commissions are not responsible for redistricting Missouri’s eight U.S. House seats. That job is to be done by state lawmakers when they convene their annual session in January.