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Election day in Jefferson County

Jefferson County voter Dennis Frenzel cast his votes as other voters fill the booths during the general election Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 at the Arnold Recreation Center in Arnold. Among the high-profile races in the county is the race for Missouri State Senate in District 22, pitting Republican Paul Weiland against Democrat Jeff Roorda. Photo by Sid Hastings

JEFFERSON CITY • A Kansas City attorney who helped draw the boundaries of Missouri’s current legislative districts is trying to knock a question off the November ballot designed to end partisan gerrymandering.

In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Paul Ritter, a Miller County resident, attorney Eddie Greim said the proposed referendum violates a provision in the Missouri Constitution that prevents multiple subjects from being combined into one ballot proposal.

“One purpose of the prohibition on multiple subjects in a single ballot proposal is to prevent ‘logrolling,’ a practice familiar to legislative bodies whereby unrelated subjects that individually might not muster enough support to pass are combined to generate the necessary support,” the lawsuit says.

The referendum sponsored by the group CLEAN Missouri asks whether voters want to tighten campaign contribution limits, ban lobbyist gifts, institute a two-year “cooling off” period for lawmakers-turned-lobbyists, start a new redistricting system in 2020 and require lawmakers to adhere to the Sunshine Law.

Currently, state legislative districts are drawn by two bipartisan panels. Under the model proposed by CLEAN Missouri, the state auditor would appoint a nonpartisan state demographer to draw new districts after the 2020 U.S. Census; a citizen commission would then review the lines.

Democrats for years have complained that under the current bipartisan model, Republicans received a built-in advantage over Democrats after the 2010 Census.

Republicans have controlled the House and the Senate chambers since 2003 and, in recent years, have tightened their grip by electing veto-proof majorities.

The ballot measure has won bipartisan support, but it also has drawn scrutiny from Republicans because it has received financial support from labor unions, Planned Parenthood and scores of small donors.

The lawsuit calls on the court to direct Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to remove the question from the ballot.

On behalf of CLEAN Missouri, Rev. Cassandra Gould, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices and a pastor at Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Jefferson City, called the lawsuit a “desperate attempt from a few political insiders to protect a corrupt system where legislators take millions in lobbyist gifts while ignoring voters back home.”

“We expected a last-ditch effort like this, because they know what we know: Voters are fed up with what they’ve been seeing in Jefferson City, and are really excited about the opportunity to clean up state politics with Amendment 1 in November,” Gould said.

In November, a national expert on redistricting told the Post-Dispatch that the combination of so many different elements in the referendum could spell trouble.

“That’s a lot to put in one measure,” said Wendy Underhill, director for elections and redistricting at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 1990, the Missouri Supreme Court tossed out a proposed ballot initiative because it included too many subjects.

The court wrote that the ban on including too many elements in a ballot question “is intended to discourage placing voters in the position of having to vote for some matter which they do not support in order to enact that which they earnestly support.”

District lines for the House and Senate are redrawn every 10 years after completion of the United States Census. Districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

In Missouri, the House and Senate set up special commissions to redraw the boundaries. If the new maps fail to win the support of 70 percent of the commissioners, the Missouri Supreme Court appoints a special panel of six judges to draw the lines.

In 2010, the commissions failed to approve their own plans, sending the matter to the special court panel. The House version was approved in November 2011, but the Senate version was challenged. A new Senate map was not approved until March 2012.

CLEAN Missouri contends the current process has become dominated by “party insiders” who help craft district boundaries that favor incumbents or particular parties. The end result is that voters have few choices when they go to the polls because a majority of districts for the House and Senate are not competitive.

The proposed amendment would require a statistical test to measure partisan fairness in the redistricting process, and it would create a new position of state demographer to draw the new boundaries.

Under the proposed change, the auditor would get to choose three candidates to serve as the demographer. The legislative leaders would then select a finalist from that group.

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