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Missouri’s state demographer position: Where are we and what’s next?

  

Late last year, six candidates applied for the newly-created position of a nonpartisan state demographer. But as voters are set to decide — again — on Missouri’s redistricting process, how far have lawmakers gotten in picking someone for the job? 

The pool of applicants was to be passed along to Senate leadership for consideration and approval. But according to Minority Floor Leader Sen. John Rizzo, the selection process has ground to a halt — in part due to a measure included on this year’s ballot.

“The placement of Amendment 3 on the ballot has delayed the selection process for the nonpartisan state demographer,” Rizzo told The Missouri Times. “It is my hope that the Republican attempt to overturn the will of the people by gutting Clean Missouri will fail, and we can move forward with selecting a nonpartisan state demographer to draw fair maps.”

The demographer position was created by the passage of the Clean Missouri Amendment in 2018. The nonpartisan state demographer is to be tasked with redrawing Missouri’s legislative districts based on 2020 census data. 

The Auditor’s Office solicited applications for the position from September through December 2019. Applicants were required to hold a degree in demography, geography, statistics, economics, sociology, urban planning, anthropology, epidemiology, or actuarial science, along with professional experience. Anyone who had served in a partisan, elected position within four years of applying was not eligible to apply.

But a provision included in Amendment 3 would abolish the newly created position in favor of a pair of bipartisan commissions, one from each chamber, appointed by the governor. If the ballot measure passed, these commissions would draw the new map. The proposed change has seen controversy, with some Democrats — and even talk show host Andy Cohen — raising concerns about the possibility of gerrymandering. 

Republican Rep. Holly Rehder took the other side of the debate in a recent editorial, pointing to “broken redistricting portions” in the 2018 measure. 

“Amendment 3, also known as Cleaner Missouri, gives voters the opportunity to have the legislative districts they want to see,” Rehder said.

Rizzo noted another critical snag, this one caused by COVID-19: This year’s census data was delayed due to the pandemic, with Missouri’s numbers scheduled to be released in the spring. Rizzo said the position would need to be filled prior to the data’s release. 

A spokesman for the Senate Minority Caucus said the issue would likely be raised again shortly after Senate leadership is established in November if Missouri voters reject Amendment 3. He did elaborate on a precise deadline for the position to be filled. 

Six people submitted bids within the application window last year: Damon Braidlow of Columbia; Donald Cripe of Holts Summit; Sara Hartman of Jefferson City; Bryan Kinworthy of Jefferson City; Robert Zane Price of Holts Summit; and Jason Ross of Columbia.