December 4, 2020

Amendment 3 causes mixed reactions among voters

Amendment 3 is an item on the ballot this November. The amendment has quickly become talked about between community members and politicians alike.

On Nov. 3, Missouri in-person voters will go to the polls to cast their judgment on a spectrum of lightning rod issues while others, mail-in and absentee voters, have already sent their ballots back to be tallied.

But there’s one ballot item that is tangled in complex political verbiage and history, said Webster University Professor Emeritus Jim Brasfield – a political scientist and local community figure.  That ballot item is Amendment 3. 

“The story begins a few years ago when reformers put together an amendment that appeared on the ballot [in 2018],” Brasfield explained, referencing the Clean Missouri Amendment. “It did a number of things, including the ways in which lobbyists can spend money, it changes the way legislative districts are drawn, they take it out of the political process and have an independent demographer be in charge of drawing the district lines for the state legislature.”

The proposition, Amendment 1, was embraced by 62% of voters at the polls two years ago, according to the Clean Missouri website.

A “No on Amendment 3” sign sits in a Webster Groves’ resident’s yard. Amendment 3 has received mixed reactions from the community. Photo by Jennifer Sarti.

“This led to some unhappiness on part of some of the existing state legislators who didn’t like the fact that they wouldn’t be able to control the drawing of the district lines after the 2020 census,” he continued. “So, the legislature passed a resolution to put Amendment 3 on the ballot in November.”

The contents of Amendment 3 have the potential to achieve a lot for those who have proposed it.

“It eliminates the state demographer,” Brasfield said. “Instead, it has a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor to draw house and senate district lines. It makes small changes in the threshold for lobbyists and campaign contributions, but they’re miniscule changes … it’s basically leaving that part in place.”

The amendment not only changes who draws the districts, but it completely changes the criteria for how they are drawn.

“Across the country, the common practice is that you take census figures and you create equal legislative districts based on the populations,” he explained. “Every legislative district should have the population of the state divided by 163. What they have put into this proposal is that it would only count eligible voters, not the entire population.”

This means that if Amendment 3 were to pass, felons, non-citizen immigrants and, most numerably, children would not be factored into district populations when legislative districts are redrawn next year. Missouri children born in 2023 will not be counted in their legislative districts until 2051 if they can’t leave the state and the amendment becomes law.

“The places that will be underrepresented will be the places that have lots of kids,” he said. “You’ve got suburban St. Louis; you’ve got the city of St. Louis; Kansas City, they’re going to be underrepresented in the state legislature. The places that will be overrepresented will be rural areas that don’t have as many children, don’t have as many immigrants and so on. It’s a ploy to decrease representation in the cities and to increase representation in rural areas.”

Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that a quarter of her city would lose representation if Amendment 3 passes.

The proposition is supported by Missouri’s republican officeholders, but the list of opposition to Amendment 3 is bipartisan and far-reaching, including former Senator John Danforth (R-MO), who wrote “the integrity of Missouri’s democracy is at stake” in another article published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“When you look at the list of organizations that are opposed to this,” Brasfield said, “the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, the AFL-CIO, the Missouri NAACP, the Missouri National Education Association, the Sierra Club Political Committee, unions such as the American Federation for State, Municipal, and County Employees, the mayor of the city of St. Louis opposes it, the St. Louis County Executive opposes it, and a number of legislators both Republicans and Democrats … there’s a fairly broad coalition of people.”

But this growing list of opposition is a turn-off to some voters. Particularly Nelson Otto from Jefferson City, Missouri, who told the News Tribune in a letter-to-the-editor, “… look at the people supporting the ‘No on 3.’ When I saw the names of those supporting and in charge of the opposition, it wiped away all doubt and let me know that ‘yes’ on Amendment 3 is the right way to be.”

Critics of Amendment 3 are also suspicious of the verbiage used by its designers.

“But what’s going to happen is hard to tell,” Brasfield said. “Particularly if people don’t really understand what the amendment does. If you don’t know any of the history, and you just read the ballot language, you might think: “Oh, it’s a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor and they have limits on how much money can be contributed and how much lobbyists can spend, this sounds pretty good, this sounds like a good government measure” – if you don’t know any of the history of it.”

But Missouri State Representative Holly Rehder feels that the Clean Missouri Amendment established a partisan office to address a partisan problem, according to her editorial published by The Missouri Times.

“Amendment 1 did away with the bipartisan, committee approach to redistricting that we had prior,” she wrote. “Instead, it created a new process of having the elected state auditor appoint a ‘state demographer’ who would be in charge of drawing new legislative district maps. That means that the state auditor, who is currently a Democrat and running for governor, would select the person responsible for deciding state legislative districts. This process clearly isn’t non-partisan.”

However, Article III, Section 3 of the Missouri Constitution outlines the selection process for the non-partisan state demographer position. The elected state auditor submits a minimum of three non-partisan state demographer applications to the state senate minority and majority leaders. If the senate leaders cannot agree on a candidate, they both eliminate prospects until the list is one-third of its originally submitted size. The position is then filled through a lottery.

There are currently six candidates on the state auditor’s panel. 

Rehder also writes: “Even worse, our new system requires that legislative districts be drawn with a priority on having an equal number of Republicans and Democrats in the same district. Districts should be drawn with a preference to geography — the point is to have like voters in like districts. It would be impossible for someone from St. Louis County to truly represent the interests of Southeast Missouri when they’ve never lived in a rural area.”

However, the constitutional guidelines for redistricting reads: “The non-partisan state demographer shall begin the preparation of legislative districting plans and maps using the following methods, listed in order of priority:

(a)   Districts shall be established on the basis of total population …

(b)   Districts shall be established in a manner so as to comply with all requirements of the United States Constitution and applicable federal laws, including, but not limited to, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (as amended).”

Blain McVey, Vice President of Webster University College Democrats, has been vocally opposed to Amendment 3 as well.

 “It wasn’t a grassroots organizing movement,” McVey said. “The state legislature worked on their own basically to get this on the ballot. Nobody asked for this. It’s the state legislature led by the Republicans trying to overturn what the people want. It’s not just bad policy, but maybe most importantly, it’s a blatant disregard for what we want.”

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