On the 2020 ballot: 'Clean Missouri' vs. 'Cleaner Missouri' in redistricting showdown
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series offering primers on the candidates and issues on the November 2020 ballot.
Two years ago, Missourians passed a constitutional amendment called “Clean Missouri” by a wide margin.
Roughly 62 percent of voters said “yes” to the plan for stricter limits on campaign contributions, a $5 cap on lobbyist gifts to legislators, and a new way of drawing the districts those legislators represent.
But that part at the end, about the districts, didn’t go over so well in the Capitol.
Drawing maps to produce more competitive races and an assembly that better reflects the state as a whole might have sounded nice to voters, but it alsothreatened Republican supermajorities, which quicklyset to work on a rollback plan.
And two years later, that plan is on the ballot as Amendment 3.
Here’s what you need to know.
What is this redistricting business, again?
So first, a little background.
This whole issue about maps revolves around the once-per-decade “redistricting" process that follows each census.
In theory, it’s a math exercise: take the new census data and draw a map so each district has roughly the same number of people.
But here’s the thing: you can draw districts in many different ways, and even a small change can make it easier for one party or the other to win it.
All politicians know this, and so they make certain rules in an effort to keep things from getting too out of hand.
Prior to 2018, Missouri’s rules required the maps to be drawn by half-Republican, half-Democratic committees appointed by the governor in an effort to make maps bipartisan.
The rules also required the districts to be “compact” and “contiguous” — no picking and choosing disconnected pockets of voters and calling it a district.
Then, if the commissions deadlocked on a map, the rules said appellate judges should take over,and they did multiple times.
But even with those rules,some felt the maps were unfairly tilted toward Republicans, who won an average of 57 percent of the two-party vote across 163 House districts but took 71 percent of the seats.
Basically, the argument from critics was that maps led voters to elect a legislature that was more Republican than they were.
The maps also featured had a sizable number of “safe” districts that virtually guaranteed one party or the other would always win.
What did Clean Missouri do?
Clean Missouri backers offered to chip away at those imbalances by adding some new rules.
The first big change introduced a “nonpartisan state demographer” to do the first draft of the new maps independently of the partisan commissions.
Citizens can send applications for the new job to the auditor — currently a Democrat — who will then send at least three options to the top Republican and the top Democrat in the Senate.
If those two senators can agree on a single applicant, that person gets the job; otherwise they can each cut one-third of the finalists and have the auditor make the final call by lottery.
The old commissions still review the demographer’s drafts, which will also be released to the public, but they can’t make changes unless 70 percent of the commission agrees.
The second big change required the map drawers to prioritize producing more competitive elections and an assembly that better reflects statewide votes.
That’s big because the two parties have been far more evenly matched in races for governor and U.S. Senate than they have been in the Republican-dominated legislature.
Districts also have to be “compact” and “contiguous,” but “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness” come first.
An Associated Press analysis saidthe new formula could bolster Democrats’ chances in 2022 and ultimately end Republican supermajorities, which can pass legislation over a governor’s veto without a single Democratic vote.
A complete overhaul of the statehouse has been cast as unlikely, though.
In a series of tweets in 2018, Sam Wang, a scholar at Princeton who studies redistricting, suggested the new criteria would make 1/5 of seats competitive but said the rest would be safer and Republicans would still get more seats.
What would Amendment 3 do?
Amendment 3 is about reversing and reducing Clean Missouri's changes.
If approved by voters next month, it would eliminate the demographer position and put concerns about competitive elections and the legislature reflecting statewide votes on the back burner.
The old bipartisan commissions would again take center stage along with "compact” and “contiguous” districts.
The amendment would also bring back the judges to take over if the commissions deadlock.
Republicans took some heat for the proposal in the past two years asDemocrats accused them of trying to "overturn the will of the people."
But Republicans generally brushed that off, saying they were just trying to give voters another chance to consider the new redistricting system before it goes into action after the current census.
Left unchecked, they said, the new system will create “spaghetti” string districts combining urban, suburban and rural areas to make races more competitive.
Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, who sponsored the plan in the legislature, laid out that standard argument in a Drury University forum this past week.
"It is my great concern that our communities will find their voices diminished in Jefferson City because of the liberal think-tank ideas contained in the criteria of (Clean Missouri), which places partisan preference above our communities," Hegeman said.
Clean Missouri backers say that’s nonsense, and point to that analysis that Wang, the Princeton gerrymandering scholar, did in 2018.
“This can all be done without drawing crazy shapes,” Wang said at the time. “All in all, it makes government more responsive without necessarily distorting the geography or partisan tendencies of Missouri.”
Amendment 3 also further limits lobbyist gifts to lawmakers by banning all gifts from paid lobbyists. It does not ban gifts from unpaid lobbyists and lobbyists related to a legislator within the fourth degree, including first cousins.
It also reduces the amount an individual can donate to a Missouri Senate candidate's personal campaign committee by $100, from $2,500 to $2,400.
“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
- Ban gifts from paid lobbyists to legislators and their employees;
- Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits;
- Change the redistricting process voters approved in 2018 by: (i) transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the Nonpartisan State Demographer to Governor-appointed bipartisan commissions; (ii) modifying and reordering the redistricting criteria.”
"State governmental entities expect no cost or savings. Individual local governmental entities expect significant decreased revenues of a total unknown amount."
A “yes” vote will approve the plan and change the redistricting process again. A “no” vote will keep things the same as they are now.