Missouri judges weigh voter info for redistricting revamp
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri appeals court panel on Friday was considering exactly how much voters should be told about a November ballot measure revamping the state’s nationally unique model for drawing fair and competitive legislative districts.
The key question: Should voters know that a “yes” vote would repeal parts of a redistricting measure they 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. A lawyer in Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office argued Friday that there was no need to do so.
But an attorney for supporters of the 2018 redistricting measure argued that the appeals court should follow the lead of a state trial judge. Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce rewrote the summary last week to note it would repeal rules approved by voters in 2018 and replace them with ones crafted by the Legislature.
During questioning of attorneys Friday, appeals court Judge Alok Ahuja homed in on the fact that the Legislature’s summary fails to say it would repeal, change or modify the criteria that will be used to redraw state legislative districts next year.
State Solicitor General John Sauer, of the attorney general’s office, argued that voters had sufficient notice without using those specific words.
“It is commonly known that when you’re amending the constitution, you’re making important changes to prior policy,” Sauer said.
The 2018 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 initiative, the 2020 ballot measure pairs the redistricting changes with popular measures to lower campaign contribution limits and restrict lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
Attorney Chuck Hatfield, who represents supporters of the 2018 measure, argued that the Legislature’s summary of the 2020 measure “is infected with arguments” that “make the voter want to vote for something” but which “departs from the facts.”
The appeals court panel could chose to stick with the Legislature’s summary, use the trial judge’s revision or write its own version for the ballot. The panel did not indicate when it would rule.
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