Missouri Politicians are Playing Dirty with Clean Missouri Initiative
Politicians in Jefferson City are trying to overturn the will of the people — and they are hoping voters won’t notice.
Last November, Missourians voted overwhelmingly for Amendment 1, the Clean Missouri initiative, to end gerrymandering in the state. In a democracy, voters are supposed to choose their elected officials, but before Amendment 1 Missouri turned that concept on its head by allowing politicians to choose their voters.
The practice, known as gerrymandering, is as old as the Republic, but looks very different in our data-driven digital age. Map-makers use partisan algorithms to “pack” supporters of the opposing party into as few districts as possible to limit their clout or “crack” them over several districts to dilute their power. Sometimes legislators from opposing parties even work together – in what’s known as a bipartisan gerrymander – to divvy up districts, making them “safe” for one party or the other, but leaving many voters with little chance of meaningful competition or choice.
In previous redistricting cycles in Missouri, the leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties handpicked political allies to draw state legislative districts to protect their seats. On Election Day 2018, voters ended that system.
Amendment 1 instead empowered a nonpartisan state demographer to draft General Assembly districts in an open and transparent manner, and then send them to citizens commissions for review and possible improvements. Amendment 1 established strict rules against drawing districts to give any party or candidate an unfair advantage. It also required that data used to draw districts be made public, which is essential to effective citizen participation in the process and holding mapmakers accountable. Finally, it included strong language to prevent racial discrimination in the drawing of districts.
Because of its strong rules that put voters first in future redistricting plans, Amendment 1 was endorsed by reformers of all stripes — Republicans, Democrats and Independents.
Now politicians are fighting back.
Immediately after fair representation won at the polls, legislators got to work thinking of ways to undo this historic reform. The Missouri House has recently passed a new scheme designed to make gerrymandering the norm once again.
House members voted to gut requirements for fair map plans, and want to replace Missouri’s anti-gerrymandering rules with a new rule that would break up communities in the name of ‘compactness.’ The House plan would eliminate the nonpartisan demographer and return power to handpicked political operatives — even giving party bosses the ability to add more of their friends and consultants to the committees that would draw maps. The House plan changes language designed to protect against racial discrimination in an attempt to turn back the clock on our voting rights progress.
Why do politicians want political operatives in charge?
The answer is simple. There are few powers more important to a politician than the ability to shield themselves from accountability on Election Day. Legislators who support these changes want to preordain the outcome of districts and make it harder to We the People to vote them out of office.
It is up to the Missouri Senate now to protect the reforms that Missourians supported.
Americans around the country and of all political affiliations are taking a stand against gerrymandering. Missouri was one of five states, both blue and red, that passed measures last year making it harder for elected officials to manipulate district boundaries. Federal and state courts are increasingly recognizing the problem of gerrymandering and striking down maps that violate Americans’ constitutional rights.
Legislative districts should embody the best attempt of neutral decision-makers to ensure that communities have effective representation in government. Instead, many elected officials believe that these districts are their personal fiefdoms and that their positions of power should be protected from the votes of the citizens they are supposed to represent. Thwarting the will of the voters by directly and immediately seeking to overturn redistricting reforms they passed is an extension of the arrogance that makes them gerrymander in the first place. Fortunately, voters won’t stand for it.
States are supposed to be laboratories of democracy, just as the Framers of our Constitution intended. But Missouri legislators are ignoring the efforts of citizens from every corner of the state who developed creative policy, collected signatures, and voted overwhelmingly for Amendment 1. Now they risk awakening a sleeping giant.
Voters will not be ignored.
We urge Missourians to call their state senators and tell them to oppose any changes to the Clean Missouri reforms the people voted for in November.
Sign the petition and take the pledge (linked below) and send it to your elected official. Tell them: You work for us. We demand a redistricting process that prioritizes people over politicians.
Dan Vicuna is the national redistricting manager for Common Cause, a nonpartisan nonprofit that works to hold government accountable. Common Cause is the lead plaintiff-appellee in Rucho v. Common Cause, a landmark redistricting case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and a supporter of the Clean Missouri initiative.