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Debate brews on Amendment 3

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The 2020 election is just around the corner. While the race for governor is gaining a lot of attention on Missouri’s Nov. 3 ballot, so are issues such as Amendment 3.

Missouri State University political science instructor Nick Beatty said it’s a similar proposal to one Missourians voted on before.

“This is causing problems because people think this is going against what they voted for in 2018,” Beatty said.

Two years ago, 62% of Missourians voted in favor of the Clean Missouri proposal, aka Amendment 1. In the current structure, a nonpartisan demographer draws the district boundaries. Amendment 3 proposes changing to a bipartisan commission appointed by the Missouri governor to draw the district lines.

At stake is Missouri’s 197 legislative districts, with representation by 34 senators and 163 members of the House of Representatives.

The ballot language on file with the Missouri secretary of state says Amendment 3 is “transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the nonpartisan state demographer to governor-appointed bipartisan commissions” and “modifying and reordering the redistricting criteria.”

Beatty said since 2020 is a census year, it’s probably the reason why the issue is being brought up again.

“So, we take a census – we got to redraw the lines – because the population has moved around,” said Beatty.

Amendment 3 was sponsored by Republican Sen. Dan Hegeman, who represents 15 counties in northwest Missouri. In a public forum held by Drury University on Oct. 14., Hegeman said a bipartisan process with Republicans and Democrats reviewing district boundaries versus just one person, is the proper path.

“I think it’s a much fairer process where you have many voices looking at how the state is drawn with a lot of various interests in maybe what their communities desire and reflect,” Hegeman said at the forum.

According to state law, Beatty said each House district must have roughly 37,000 people, and Senate districts are set at roughly 174,000 people. But if redrawing the lines are done by someone not independent of politics, Beatty said the parties can try to make sure the lines are drawn in their favor.

“So, they will try to pack a bunch of Democrats in one district and then leave several districts for Republicans to have the advantage,” said Beatty. “Both parties do this.”

After reading about Amendment 3, Jan Wooten, co-owner of Sunshine Valley Farm Inc. in Rogersville, had concerns about the proposal because of its ambiguous language. Her business is currently located in House District 137 and Senate District 20.

“One of the most important attributes of any government – any state government – is transparency,” said Wooten. “And I think this proposal is the complete opposite of transparency.”

Wooten said redistricting in 2010 moved her business out of the Springfield district. She said her business’ address never changed, but she was put in the district representing Webster County. The downside is that she and her customers rely on quality roads and bridges, and more of that funding typically goes to urban areas.

“The population that we serve mostly comes from Springfield as opposed to farther out in Webster County,” said Wooten.

But Brian Hammons, CEO and president of Hammons Product Co., is in favor of Amendment 3.

“We want our representatives and senators to live close to us,” said Hammons, “where they know the people, they know the businesses, they are involved and can better represent the interests of the people.”

Hammons says his business has been in different districts over the years. Currently, he is in House District 128. He said Amendment 3 restores district lines to a compact continuous area.

“I think it is a fairer representation to have someone who lives nearby the voters and businesses of that area,” said Hammons.

Eric Bohl, director of public affairs and advocacy for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said he is in favor of Amendment 3. He said he doesn’t think people know exactly what they voted for in 2018. In essence, he said voters passed a mathematical formula that tries to force each district to achieve as close to a 50/50 balance of Republicans and Democrats as possible. Associated Press reports have cited Missouri as the first state to require use of a specific formula called the “efficiency gap” to measure partisan fairness.

According to the Missouri secretary of state, Clean Missouri applies the following criteria when a state demographer draws the lines: Districts shall be established based on population; partisan fairness and competitiveness are key factors in designing the map; and districts are constructed in a way to comply with the U.S. Constitution, federal laws and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“In some suburban areas that might not be hard to do, but for example this is bad for urban areas as well,” said Bohl. “Same goes for rural communities, where they vote 70%-80% conservative or Republican; they deserve to have a voice that represents their views, too.”

“In Amendment 3, drawing district lines would not be controlled by the party in power,” Bohl added. “It’s not a perfect system by any means, but it at least allows people in Missouri being the ones to have a say. Rather than some bureaucrat that just gets selected by one of the state officers and placed into the position of drawing a map for 6 million Missourians and isn’t responsive to the people of Missouri.”

However, Beatty warned Amendment 3 leaves out certain groups of people when drawing the lines.

“They would not count people under the age of 18, would not count immigrants and would not count people on probation or parole,” he said. Essentially, Beatty said, it could result in an undercount and misrepresentation, particularly people of color and disadvantaged groups.

“This would do a really great disservice to a number of communities,” added Wooten, in Rogersville. “It could easily lead to misappropriation of funding.”

But determining who can vote in the newly drawn districts seems to be up to interpretation of the General Assembly, if Amendment 3 is passed.

Some also are criticizing the ballot language itself as being confusing. Beatty said the way it’s written people may first read that the proposal will clamp down on lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions. But he said that’s a negligible part of the bill.

“Lobby gifts are already capped at $5 – getting rid of those won’t make any difference,” said Beatty. “They are going to try to lower campaign contributions by $100. So, once again, that’s not doing anything really, either.”

According to an online poll by Springfield Business Journal asking readers how they will vote on Amendment 3, 72% answered no and 28% said yes. There were 680 votes between Oct. 15 and 22.

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