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Nancy Miller and Louise Wilkerson: Keep clean redistricting process that counts kids

Nancy Miller and Louise Wilkerson: Keep clean redistricting process that counts kids

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After the courts confirmed that the 2020 Census should count every resident, many members of the Missouri General Assembly indicated that they think legislative district maps should be drawn counting only citizens over the age of 18.

The Legislature last week approved Senate Joint Resolution 38 to put an amendment on the ballot to replace Clean Missouri’s redistricting process. The new amendment would allow unprecedented partisan and racial gerrymandering. Not only would this amendment to the state constitution give political parties more power, it would open the door to a process that excludes children and non-citizens when drawing legislative district maps.

Apparently, some legislators do not think kids should count as part of their constituency, even though minors make up 22% of the state’s population. That is an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of 18 across the state, according to the Missouri Census Data Center. That includes 22% of the St. Louis County population, 19% of St. Louis city, and 23% of St. Charles County.

The League of Women Voters believes that district maps should continue to be drawn on the basis of total population — all the people who live in an area. Courts have supported this method since total population serves the principle of representational equality. The Supreme Court ruling in Evenwel v. Abbott reaffirmed that the interests of all people living in the U.S. should hold equal weight and yield comparable influence in the democratic process. Legislators are elected to serve all residents, not just those eligible to vote.

Currently, Missouri’s 163 House districts have an average population of 37,000 and the 34 Senate districts have an average population of 174,000. Those population numbers for legislative districts are crucial for our communities. Representation determines how resources get allocated. Removing 1.4 million children from our population count substantially affects the size of House and Senate districts and reduces the representation of all children and non-citizens.

Accurate population counts are used by school districts, municipal boards and states to determine funding priorities and allocate necessary resources for schools, libraries, transportation and other public programs and services. If legislative district maps are drawn based on incomplete counts, then all individuals living in those districts will suffer.

When all our neighbors are not represented and included in all counts, the entire community loses out. We need fair maps that include all of us.

Families with children would lose the most if Missouri switches to Citizen Voting Age Population for redistricting after the 2020 Census. Those district maps would be in place for the next decade. A lot of changes occur in 10 years, including current teenagers becoming eligible to vote, and refugees and other immigrants gaining citizenship. Are they to be denied their representation?

League volunteers have registered dozens of newly naturalized citizens to vote. Their excitement about earning the right to vote in this country reminds us of the importance of citizenship. It should also remind us of the importance of refugees and other immigrants in our economy. Many of them come with valuable skills and are willing to work hard to achieve the American dream.

State legislators should be eager to represent non-citizen residents, not discount them.

The Missouri General Assembly’s new gerrymandering plan is part of a national effort to undermine the principles of representative democracy. The daughter of gerrymandering mastermind Thomas B. Hofeller released files after his death showing he advocated using Citizen Voting Age Population for redistricting instead of total population since it favored one group of citizens over others, saying it “would be advantageous to non-Hispanic whites.”

These files were evidence in the 2019 Texas court case that ruled out a Census question on citizenship. In Missouri, experts say using voting age in redistricting would benefit rural areas at the expense of St. Louis and other cities.

In 2018 voters in every state Senate district supported Amendment 1, known as Clean Missouri, to clean up Missouri’s Legislature. We believe Missourians do not want to exclude children under 18 and non-citizens from the count, drop the amendment’s independent demographer, give political parties more power, hide the data used for the final maps, or set a weaker race equity standard.

“Voters should be livid at this legislative attempt to circumvent their will,” the Post-Dispatch said in a Feb. 12 editorial that recognized SJR 38 as an incumbent-protection plan.

We want fair maps that count our kids as well as non-citizens. To achieve that, we need to keep the process clean. Let’s not mess with Amendment 1.

Nancy Miller and Louise Wilkerson are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis.

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