The passage of Amendment 1, the “Clean Missouri” referendum, promises to bring tremendous positive change to Jefferson City by restricting lobbying and campaign donations. There remains a big unanswered question about the amendment: How can Missourians verify the nonpartisan status of the official tasked with redrawing Missouri’s state legislative district maps after each census?
The amendment requires the appointment of a new “nonpartisan state demographer.” The task is left up to the state auditor, who must develop an application process and seek out qualified candidates. The auditor must then select at least three applicants “with sufficient expertise and qualifications.”
Once the auditor has made a selection, the state Senate majority and minority leaders will be presented with the candidates. If they can agree on a single candidate, that person becomes the new demographer. If they cannot agree, both legislative leaders may veto up to one-third of the candidates. A lottery determines the demographer from those remaining. On the surface, this process appears thorough and nonpartisan. It’s not foolproof, however.
The state auditor is an elected partisan who would almost certainly have an interest in seeing his or her party represented favorably in redistricting. Because no upper limit exists on the number of candidates a state auditor may select, the auditor could flood the zone by selecting so many partisan candidates that neither the majority nor minority leader could veto them all.
Including “nonpartisan” in the demographer’s title is valiant. But is it achievable to a sufficient degree to overcome the inevitable accusations of partisan slant that undoubtedly will be leveled? The Supreme Court was designed to be expressly nonpartisan as well, but few serious observers would refer to it as a bastion of partisan impartiality today.
Some Republicans already are criticizing Amendment 1 as a Democratic ploy to seize control of redistricting — largely because the current state auditor, Nicole Galloway, is a Democrat. That said, several key Republican politicians threw their support behind the amendment.
If the first state demographer turned out to be nonpartisan in name only, the office would likely never recover. Republicans would almost certainly retaliate as soon as a GOP state auditor takes power. On the other hand, if Democrats commit to honoring a truly nonpartisan selection process with input and agreement from across the aisle, the office would have a fighting chance of gaining integrity and respect.
No one is better suited to that task than Galloway, whose professionalism and impartiality in state audits have won respect from all sides. She has already pledged to uphold the spirit of reform behind this referendum. The steps she takes in coming months will establish the record of integrity that the demographer’s office requires to be successful and, equally important, earn all Missourians’ respect.