By U.S. Senator Jim Talent
On November 6, Missourians will be asked to vote on Amendment One, a massive change to our State Constitution. The Amendment has been packaged as ethics reform, but 70% of the ballot language is devoted to making a radical change in the way Missouri draws its state legislative districts every ten years.
In brief, Amendment One would create a redistricting process in which politicians pick the voters instead of voters choosing the politicians. That’s why I call it the Gerrymandering Amendment.
For 70 years, the Missouri Constitution has specified only two goals for redistricting: each district must have equal numbers of voters and districts must be “compact and contiguous,” respecting to the extent possible county lines, city lines and other important communities of interest.
The “compact and contiguous” requirement is designed to prevent the spaghetti like districts that are typical in gerrymandered maps. People should be represented by legislators who come from their community, rather than from eighty miles away. Moreover, it’s much harder to manipulate compact and contiguous districts for partisan purposes.
You can’t gerrymander a county.
Amendment One would junk the compact and contiguous standard and instead require that maps be drawn to achieve “partisan fairness.” That means the maps would be drawn to produce a partisan outcome in the Legislature that mirrored the results of recent statewide elections.
If, for example, Republican candidates for President, Governor, and Senate had carried the state by 55% of the vote, the maps would be drawn to produce a 55% Republican majority in the Legislature for the next ten years.
The sponsors of the Amendment think it will produce more Democratic seats, because in recent years Democratic candidates have run better statewide than in legislative races. They want maps with a lot of districts that are marginally Democratic, hoping that will result in more Democratic legislators.
That might or might not happen. In a wave year, either Party is fully capable of winning seats that would normally lean the other way, particularly if they run candidates with local appeal. In fact, that’s why the Republicans hold such large majorities in the Legislature now. A number of Republicans have won marginally Democratic seats – seats that will likely switch back in the normal ebb and flow of politics.
But what Amendment One will certainly result in is the carving up of St. Louis and Kansas City into slivers, as parts of long, winding districts that extend far out into mid-Missouri. It’s highly unlikely that candidates from the two cities would be elected in such districts.
If you’re from St. Louis, and you are looking forward to being represented in the State Senate by someone from Gasconade County, vote for the Gerrymandering Amendment.
Amendment One is a dagger in the heart of African American representation. Congressman Clay is strongly opposing it, and so is Freedom Inc., which is the largest and most influential African American political organization in Kansas City. They want people in their communities to be represented by people from their community, and they’re right.
No other State, from the solid Red ones to the solid Blue, has a redistricting system like the one proposed by the Gerrymandering Amendment. In fact, of the eight States with redistricting measures on the ballot this fall, the other seven are all moving to a system like the one Missouri already has – the same one the Gerrymandering Amendment would junk.
I urge Missourians to learn more about Amendment One and vote no on November 6.
Jim Talent, a Republican, is a former U.S. Senator for Missouri.