Missouri's Republican-led Legislature on Wednesday sent a ballot proposal to voters asking them to reconsider their earlier backing of a redistricting system that stresses fairness and competitiveness over everything else.
Missourians in 2018 voted to make "partisan fairness" and "competitiveness" the top criteria in re-drawing state legislative districts. The new plan, approved by House lawmakers 98-56, would ask voters later this year to make those the least important criteria, reversing key parts of the earlier ballot initiative.
Redistricting is set for 2021, following results from this year's census.
The new proposal is backed largely by Republicans, who argue the 2018 ballot initiative deceptively packaged popular ethics reforms with a redistricting plan that they say will split up communities and lead to gerrymandering.
The new proposal also includes ethics changes, including a total ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. Currently, there's a $5 limit on gifts to lawmakers.
Primarily Democratic critics in the state Legislature have blasted the new redistricting as an attempt to reverse an initiative that voters approved less than two years ago.
Both Democratic and Republican House members on Wednesday raised concerns about another provision in the measure that is generally referred to as "one person, one vote." If approved by voters, the number of people in each House and Senate district could be determined by the number of voters or citizens who live there instead of the total number of people who live there, which is how districts are currently determined.
Yurij Rudensky, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice, said in a statement that the change could hurt communities of color.
"The amendment would open the door to discriminatory and likely illegal efforts to draw districts in ways that minimize the power of communities with lots of children," she said. "This would hit African-American communities especially hard."
Support for the ballot measure didn't fall cleanly on party lines. Some Republicans criticized it as too similar to the 2018 ballot measure. Possible redistricting changes also have divided black lawmakers.Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat, raised concerns that the 2018 proposal could split up black communities and dilute the voice of communities of color in an effort to make districts more competitive. She supports the new Republican-sponsored plan.
"I am standing here as a black woman first and a Democrat second," she said.
In addition to changing the redistricting criteria, the Republican proposal also would abolish a new state demographer position to draw districts and return the task to a bipartisan commission.