Monday, May 11, 2020

Gerrymandering the vote

2018 referendum, approved by 62% of Missouri voters, put a non-partisan demographer in charge of drawing districts, limiting partisan influence on the process. It also makes partisan fairness one of the top criteria the mapmaker must follow. It would likely weaken Republican control of the legislature, according to an Associated Press analysis. Voters who embraced the changes sought to prevent excessive gerrymandering, a process of manipulating electoral maps that Republicans have used to gain advantages throughout the country this decade.

Now, Republicans are proposing a new ballot that would undo those protections. Their plan would eliminate the non-partisan demographer and return redistricting power to committees nominated by the political parties and selected by the governor. It makes partisan fairness the least important criteria to follow when drawing maps, instead prioritizing keeping communities compact. The proposal also makes it harder to get a gerrymandered map struck down in court. The measure has already passed the state senate, and is awaiting a vote in the full House. If approved by 15 May, voters across the state would then choose whether to support it later this year. It is likely the last chance Republicans, who control the state legislature, have to undo the referendum before the once-a-decade redistricting takes place in 2021.

If Republicans succeed, advocates worry it could serve as a model for weakening gerrymandering reform elsewhere. Voters in Michigan, Colorado and Utah all used ballot measures to pass gerrymandering reform in 2018. There is also deep concern the Republican proposal will open the door to redistricting in a way that will disadvantage minorities and non-citizens.

US districts must have roughly the same number of people in them, and states have long used the total population as the basis for drawing them. But the new proposal says the lines should be drawn on the basis of “one person, one vote”. It would allow Missouri Republicans to draw districts based only on those eligible to vote – US citizens aged 18 and over. It’s a standard Republicans have been pushing for, and one that would likely advantage white rural areas and hurt cities, where there are more likely to be non-citizens.
The language in the Republican proposal is “a little odd” and “disingenuous at best,” said Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. Missouri, he said, has long based representation on the total population, not just those eligible to vote.
“This is another example of a change that sets the redistricting process up to fail and to make it a mess,” he said. “And to potentially set up for a discriminatory scheme that disadvantages communities of color and would cut out certain constituencies out of the political calculus.”
“The substance of what they’re trying to do has already been outrageous, and it’s incredible that they’re trying to move this attempt to overturn the will of the voters, when voters literally can’t participate in the process,” said Sean Soendker Nicholson, the campaign manager for Clean Missouri, the group behind the gerrymandering reform measure.

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