Politicians, researchers discuss aspects and impacts of Amendment 3

Amendment 3, a redistricting and lobbying measure, passed with 51% of the vote on Election Day and overturns key parts of Amendment 1, which voters put onto the ballot in 2018.

Missouri voters passed Amendment 3, a redistricting and lobbying measure meant to amend a ballot initiative approved in 2018, with 51% of the vote on Election Day.

The amendment’s biggest impact is changing who draws state legislative districts. A bipartisan commission of 20 state senators and 20 state representatives appointed by Gov. Mike Parson will now create the boundaries. Seventy percent of them must agree on a map to finalize it. Amendment 3 also lowers the amount lobbyists can give politicians from $5 to $0, and it lowers the campaign contribution limit for state Senate campaigns from $2500 to $2400.

Amendment 3 amends much of Amendment 1, which Missouri voters brought to the ballot via initiative in 2018 and passed with 62% of the vote. Missouri used a bipartisan commission to draw state legislative districts before 2018, but Amendment 1 replaced the commission with a nonpartisan demographer appointed by State Auditor Nicole Galloway. This demographer was responsible for drawing the map, but a legislative commission could alter the map if 70% of them agreed to do so.

Mark Rush, a professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, who specializes in election law and partisan gerrymandering, said Missouri missed a chance to “clean up” by passing Amendment 3. He said appointing a demographer would have taken redistricting power farther from legislators’ hands, which he said allows for fairer districts.

“In Missouri, the conflict of interest will be obvious,” Rush said. “The elected legislators will have influence through their colleagues on a bipartisan commission, and they will be able to draw districts that favor their re-election chances.”

State Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, supports Amendment 3. He said no demographer would be truly nonpartisan, and he said the bipartisan commission created under Amendment 3 would not favor either party. However, he said allowing Galloway, Missouri’s only state-level Democratic official, to select the demographer would have unfairly favored Democrats.

“Find me a nonpartisan person in this state,” Sen. Cierpiot said. “It’s just crap because there’s no such thing.”

Republicans like Cierpiot were the amendment’s primary supporters. State Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, introduced Amendment 3 in the State Senate, and it passed through both chambers with supermajority support.

State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, opposes Amendment 3. He said it was a Republican effort intended to overturn the will of voters who had put Amendment 1 on the ballot.

“The spirit of it was to basically allow for a new process of drawing maps that will lead to the ability for a majority party to gerrymander more than has been allowed in the past,” Rep. Kendrick said.

Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly. They outnumber Democrats 24 to 10 in the Senate and 114 to 48 in the House. Republicans were also responsible for putting Amendment 3 on the ballot; 23 Senate Republicans and 97 House Republicans voted for Hegeman’s resolution, while zero Senate Democrats and one House Democrat voted for it.

Rush said Republican lawmakers supported Amendment 3 so overwhelmingly because the amendment’s goals align not with Republican interests, but with the incumbent majority’s interests. He said Amendment 1 would have made state legislative districts more competitive, much to the chagrin of the majority party.

“Well, when you think about it, Missouri’s been Republican for how long? Like, forever?” Rush said. “Anybody who benefited from the status quo would have been very upset with the passage of Amendment 1. And so it makes sense that Republicans would have supported getting rid of Amendment 1 because it changes the process that they're benefiting from.”

Apart from changing who draws legislative districts, Amendment 3 also changes how they are drawn.

Amendment 1 prioritized partisan fairness and competitiveness in drawing districts and it stipulated that the wasted vote percentage in a district must be as close to zero as possible (wasted votes are votes cast for the losing candidate or for the winning candidate above the threshold of victory). Amendment 3 prioritizes population, contiguous districts and simple shapes over partisan fairness and competitiveness, and wasted votes cannot exceed 15%.

State Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said she is concerned Amendment 3 will allow the state legislature to draw gerrymandered, non-competitive districts. She said competition in the general election rather than in the primary election ensures a district is representative of as many of its voters’ voices as possible.

“I represent a district that was held by a Republican before me, and as someone who holds a competitive district, it means I get to hear from a spectrum of opinions and experiences from all of the people I represent,” Sen. Arthur said. “I think that that makes me work harder to build consensus and pass laws that are better for everyone.”

Sen. Cierpiot said “more competitive” is code for “more Democratic.” He also said creating fair districts would prove challenging in a state like Missouri, where voters of each party tend to congregate together.

“Part of the problem for the Democrat Party is all their strength’s in the big cities,” Sen. Cierpiot said. “I don’t know how you make places like Texas County or Wright County less Republican. And when you go to Kansas City or St. Louis, there’s no way to make those districts competitive but compact with natural boundaries. They’d have to be 600 yards wide and 40 miles across.”

Amendment 3 will also change for whom each district is drawn. Under Amendment 1, the demographer would have drawn districts that would take the entire population of Missouri into account. Under Amendment 3, the commission will only consider citizens of Missouri over the age of 18.

Rush said this decision might be legally “dicey” for Missouri and could be violating the principle of “one person, one vote.” He cited Evenwel v. Abbott, a 2016 Supreme Court case in which the Court ruled unanimously that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott could direct his state legislature to apportion state legislative districts based on total population, not registered voter population. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the wording of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment clearly reflected that total population should be the basis for legislative representation.

Sen. Arthur said basing districts off adult Missouri citizens would disenfranchise people of color. The Brennan Center for Justice released a September report finding that 54% of Missouri’s Latino and Asian populations, 28% of its Black population and 21% of its white population would go uncounted under Amendment 3.

Sen. Arthur said this would take political power from St. Louis and Kansas City, the state’s major Democratic strongholds, as many of Missouri’s people of color live in these metropolitan areas. Three of Missouri’s four majority-Black Senate districts (all Democratic-leaning) will require more adult citizens, thus taking power from communities of color, according to the report.

In addition to representation, opponents of Amendment 3 have also criticized the measure’s language and variety of content. On the ballot, voters read two paragraphs about lobbying reforms before reading about the redistricting changes.

The original language falsely said the new commission created by Amendment 3 would be “citizen-led” and “independent.” After two rounds in court, the final text more accurately portrayed the redistricting changes but still left them after the lobbying changes.

Rep. Kendrick said the way the text on the ballot was organized was the sole reason Amendment 3 passed.

“Amendment 3 passed because of those first two bullet points,” Rep. Kendrick said. “I fully suspect that many voters just read bullet point number one and voted yes. It was deceiving language, because who doesn’t want to eliminate lobbyist gifts?”

Sen. Cierpiot agreed. He also said the fact that the measure contained two topics — redistricting and lobbying — helped, as many voters support limiting lobbying.

However, Sen. Cierpiot said the same was true for Amendment 1, as it too contained provisions for lobbying and redistricting. In both cases, final court decisions did not take issue with the several subjects raised in the measures.

“I think any issue petition should not have that complex multi-subject stuff in it,” Sen. Cierpiot said. “I think it was fine that we did it [on Amendment 3] because it was done that way initially, but I think things should be broken into smaller parts.”

Sean Soendker Nicholson is the director of Clean Missouri, the organization that put Amendment 1 on the ballot and led the campaign to oppose Amendment 3. He said he was disappointed that “politicians’ lies and deceptions” allowed Amendment 3 to pass, but he added that opponents of Amendment 3 will stay committed to creating fair maps.

“Amendment 3 was written to allow for truly radical gerrymandering, but it does not require it,” Nicholson wrote in an email. “The broad, bipartisan coalition that passed the Clean Missouri Amendment [Amendment 1] will be active and engaged in the 2021 redistricting process to ensure that voters and communities come first in new maps, not politicians.”

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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