The unfolding of the 2020 presidential election was painful to watch, but it did alert voters to how important transparency is for election administration. It also reinforced that the leaders of many states don’t share the political views of the majority of their voters. That’s because many legislative and congressional districts were drawn by politicians to favor their own political parties. In Maryland, current districts favor Democrats. In Missouri and many other states, current districts favor Republicans.
Redistricting is the process of drawing boundaries for election districts and is intended to be the foundation for fair elections. It determines who appears on voters’ ballots, where each voter will vote, and it can affect whether or not their elected officials respond to voters’ needs and concerns or pay more attention to special interests.
Traditionally, redistricting has been secretive, with most of the work done behind the scenes if not in a smoke-filled room. Missouri’s redistricting process is especially vulnerable to partisan gerrymandering, which unfairly skews election results to the party in power.
The new redistricting commissions for the Missouri House and the Senate are starting to gather information and formulate the process for drawing new lines for Missouri’s eight congressional seats. Concerned citizens must demand transparency throughout every step of their process. If voters passively ignore the redistricting process, the resulting district maps could unfairly skew election results for 10 years.
In 2018, Missourians voted to ensure fair redistricting and to eliminate gerrymandering for our state legislative districts by passing the Clean Missouri amendment. Stressing partisan fairness, Clean Missouri virtually eliminated the possibility of gerrymandering. Volunteers gathered the signatures of almost 350,000 voters to place Amendment 1 on the November 2018 ballot. Clean Missouri passed in all 34 state Senate districts and with 62% approval statewide.
However, when any political party enjoys tremendous power, the temptation to gerrymander is also tremendous. That’s why 107 representatives and 22 senators acted last spring to place Amendment 3 on last November’s ballot to replace Clean Missouri’s fair redistricting plan with their own vague rules. The amendment’s ballot language was deceptive because it stressed very minor reforms. Most Missouri voters did not realize they were gutting restrictions on gerrymandering that 129 politicians didn’t like. It narrowly passed with 51% of the vote.
States are awaiting results of the 2020 Census to begin the redistricting process. The new system is more partisan, with the two major political parties nominating people for bipartisan redistricting commissions to be appointed by the governor. Since those commissions are unlikely to reach the required consensus, district maps will likely not be finalized until early in 2022, when it goes to a panel of judges.
Once the state’s legislative district maps are finalized, it will be difficult to have any changes made. Amendment 3 restricts who can challenge the maps, and the Supreme Court said in the 2018 Rucho v. Common Cause decision that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal court.”
Maps for Missouri’s 34 Senate districts and 163 House districts will be redrawn in the next 10 months, and the maps will be in effect for the next 10 years. Missouri’s redistricting process doesn’t have to be secretive or unfair. Transparency is the key for fair maps, which is what voters want.
The nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Missouri believes that all Missourians oppose gerrymandering and want districts to be drawn in a fair and transparent manner.
Members of the Missouri League of Women Voters will be closely watching the map-making process in the coming months. We call on all Missourians to join us in demanding nonpartisan fairness in the drawing of legislative maps. Let’s hold the commissions accountable for transparency and fair maps.
Evelyn Maddox is president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri.