Biparty panel heads to plan for new Missouri House neighborhoods

A bipartisan commission drawing a map for 163 Missouri House districts to be used over the next decade is “over 50%” in agreement, members said on Monday as they worked towards the Dec. 23 deadline. .

The House’s 20-member Biparty Independent Citizens Committee met for more than three hours on Monday, but most of that time was spent with the 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans gathered to determine how well their cards were the same and how they differed.

Rural Missouri, where the districts are large geographically but sparsely populated, is the primary area of ​​agreement. Democratic commissioners said at the end of the meeting they needed to take a closer look at Republican proposals for urban areas, where districts share densely populated populations.

Jason Ludwig, a Democratic commissioner who has taken over as head of his party, has said he will tell the entire committee ahead of upcoming meetings whether the GOP’s offer on urban areas is acceptable.

“I think we can congratulate ourselves a bit as it looks like we have agreement on over 50% of the districts that we need to review,” Ludwig said.

After the meeting, Chairman Jerry Hunter said the committee wanted to be the first House committee since 1991 to table a plan. If 14 of the 20 members fail to agree on a single card for the state, the job goes to a panel of appeals court judges chosen by the Missouri Supreme Court.

The commissioners, said Hunter, are “aware of the constitutional responsibility to try to come to an agreement and not just consider that we’re going to send it to court. I think the commissioners on both sides are very determined to get it right. a map we can agree on. “

The collegial relationship is very different from the committee’s first meeting in August, when it took many hours and votes to select Hunter as chairman.

The panel strives to make the districts as nearly equal in population as possible, based on the results of the 2020 census. There was no question of trying to draw a map based on the voting age population, which was raised several times during the public hearings in the beginning of the fall.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the panel must file a preliminary map by December 23. If he misses that deadline, he cannot proceed to public hearings and vote on a final plan in January, said Gary Cain, director of the redistribution project.

The same deadlines apply to the independent bipartisan Senate Redistribution Commission, which also has 20 members divided equally between the two main parties. Like the House committee, the Senate panel must have 14 members agree on a card for it to be used for future elections.

The Senate committee is due to meet again on Monday.

If either committee misses the December 23 deadline, district cards may not be ready until the opening of nominations at the end of February. If a judicial panel is to complete the work, it will not be appointed until after the last deadline at the end of January.

While this year’s commissions are similar to those used in the past, there are several new rules that both must follow. Lawmakers rewrote the constitutional provisions last year after an initiative petition from a group called Clean Missouri gained voter approval in 2018.

The Clean Missouri initiative called on a non-partisan state demographer to draw districts of nearly equal population. He kept the commissions, but their role was reduced. Instead of writing the maps, they could not veto, by a majority vote of 70 percent, the demographer’s plan.

Clean Missouri’s guiding policy was to make overall partisan fairness a priority, with a mathematical formula to test it. The next priorities were to design compact districts that did not cross political subdivision lines or separate communities of interest.

Opponents accused Clean Missouri supporters of creating a gerrymandered legislature where each district was 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.

Supporters countered overall fairness, not absolute equality, was the goal.

Republicans hold 111 of the 163 seats in the Missouri House and Democrats hold 49. There are three vacancies. The GOP has 24 of 34 Missouri Senate seats.

The legislative overhaul of the process made maintaining the integrity of counties and cities a top priority, with partisan fairness a lower priority. Maps proposed by the Republicans, for example, cut out eight entire wards of the city of St. Louis and five entire wards of Boone County.

St. Louis is divided into 11 districts, three of which cross St. Louis County. Boone County is divided into five districts, two of which are entirely within the county and three that encompass parts of the surrounding counties.

To meet the constitutional deadline, the House committee will meet again on Thursday, Monday and again on December 23.

Matt Kessler, of the Redistribution Office, warned the commission that timing would mean a tight deadline for filing the preliminary plan with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office.

Simply printing the plan could take several hours, he said, and the redistribution office is working to determine what is required in the preliminary plan and what could be left out.

The plan issued by a judicial panel in 2011 for the districts of Missouri House was 1,200 pages long and included 168 large-format maps. Although the constituency office has some of the fastest large format printers on the market, he said, it still takes time.

“I can’t tell you how long it’s going to take,” he said, “because we don’t know what it’s going to take.”

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

Comments are closed.