When Barrack Obama lost Missouri by only 0.13 percent in 2008, Tea Party conservatives galvanized to make sure future elections would not be that close.
At that time, Missouri had five Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives. After the 2010 U.S. Census showed a sizable loss of population, Missouri lost a representative. Newly elected Tea Party members in Missouri gerrymandered district lines to create six Republican and only two Democratic seats.
Subsequently, in the state Legislature, a Republican majority grew into a veto-proof conservative body and the General Assembly became more polarized each year. Notably, a variety of controls and accountability measures for the Legislature were removed, including open meetings and records laws. Restrictions on campaign donations from out-of-state groups were lifted. Term-limited legislators were offered jobs as lobbyists. Political favors and debts started to rule the actions of Missouri’s lawmakers.
In 2017, a coalition of groups, including the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, decided that enough was enough. It was time to clean up the Missouri Legislature. A citizen group started drafting reforms to address campaign finance, Sunshine Laws, the legislature-to-lobbying revolving door, and redistricting. A key focus was using the population numbers found in the Census to fairly represent the residents of Missouri in new district maps. This reform legislation became known as Clean Missouri.
Through the citizen initiative petition process, Clean Missouri was on the ballot in 2018 and 62% of voters in Missouri voted to adopt Clean Missouri. Voters in every state Senate district passed it two years ago. The success of these reforms is a strong indicator of the broad desire in Missouri for fairer redistricting and more transparent and accountable lawmakers.
Some legislators were not happy. In particular, they wanted a return to a law that allows and fosters gerrymandering so they can hold onto power. Therefore, after a failed attempt in 2019, they succeeded in 2020 to pass a, bill (Amendment 3) to undo the redistricting process and to block having a nonpartisan demographer draw up fair maps. Amendment 3 is on the November 3 ballot.
Amendment 3 doesn’t return redistricting to the old rules. The fine print includes language that would allow more political gerrymandering in Missouri than in any other state, resurrecting some of the worst parts of the old, abuse-prone system by removing protections for communities of color.
The fine print in the bill includes language that would allow redistricting mapmakers to only count voting citizens instead of the total population as counted in the 2020 Census. Shockingly, Missouri would be the first state in the nation to exclude children and noncitizens from apportionment. Missourians who live in communities with more children than other communities would get significantly less representation than other communities with the same or similar overall population. This would be a serious obstacle to communities of color receiving fair representation.
For the sake of fairness, justice, and the common good, the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis urges voters to vote no on Amendment 3. Send state legislators a clear and resounding message. We, the people, demand fair maps for Missouri.
Louise T. Wilkerson is co-president of the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis.