KANSAS CITY, Mo.- When Missouri voters head to the polls Tuesday, the first constitutional amendment they'll see on the ballot focuses on ethics reforms for Jefferson City, as well as the creation of a new redistricting process.
Clean Missouri is the campaign behind Amendment 1, which was placed on the ballot through an initiative petition that garnered more than 300,000 signatures. The campaign has support from groups like the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, as well as former U.S. Senator John Danforth (R) and State Senator Rob Schaaf (R-St.Joseph).
"Amendment 1 is a package of desperately-needed reforms," said Sean Soendker Nicholson, Clean Missouri Campaign Manager.
Amendment 1 would:
- Change the process and criteria for redrawing state legislative districts (more on that later)
- Change limits on campaign contributions state lawmakers can accept from individuals or entities. For state senate candidates, the limit would change from $2,600 to $2,500. For state representative candidates, it would go from $2,600 to $2,000.
- Establish a $5 cap on gifts state lawmakers can accept from lobbyists
- Prohibit state legislators who are leaving office from becoming lobbyists for two years
- Require records/legislative proceedings to be open to the public
Changing the Redistricting Process
Amendment 1 would add a "non-partisan state demographer" to the state redistricting process. The state auditor would be responsible for collecting resumes and providing a list of qualified applicants to the Missouri Senate.
After that the senate majority and minority leaders would review candidates for the job. If they can't agree on a selection, then they are each able to remove applicants from the list. Next, the auditor would conduct a random lottery to select a demographer.
This is the part of the amendment where opponents take issue.
"I've been an elected official. I understand how party politics works. I am certain that every individual whose name is on that list of qualified candidates will share the same partisan ideology as the auditor," said Scott Dieckhaus, former state representative and current campaign manager for Missourians First.
Missourians First is the organized opposition to Amendment 1. The Missouri GOP has also come out against the amendment.
"It's a fairly bipartisan process now. There's never going to be a perfect process, but I think this one leads to a real risk of serious gerrymandering," Sarah Miller, a state and county GOP committee member, said.
There's another layer to the opposition that comes from the opposite side of the aisle.
Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal and U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay both told St. Louis Public Radio they do not support Amendment 1 because they think it will reduce the number of African-American lawmakers.
"You can have a majority/minority district by standard through the Voting Rights Act if you had just 52 percent African American population, which dramatically decreases the chance that the district is going to be represented by a minority representative or senator," Dieckhaus of Missourians First said.
That's a point Clean Missouri contests, because of the way the amendment is written.
"The first criterion for how new maps will be evaluated in the future is to ensure that the maps do not dilute the voting power of communities of color," Soendker Nicholson explained.
Racial fairness ranks above partisan fairness and competition, according to Clean Missouri.
The Brennan Center for Justice wrote an annotation of the amendment to explain how it would work practically.
"The ability to elect a community-preferred candidate is another standard by which a plan must be measured. This requires districts...to actually elect candidates that are actually preferred by the relevant community. To put this into practice, the state demographer must consider minority voter turnout, the political cohesion of the community, and other community-specific facts," the Brennan Center wrote.