GOP plan to undo Clean Missouri could leave children out of redistricting

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Do the children of Missouri deserve representation in government? Most people would say yes. The state’s Republican legislators appear to be saying no. As the GOP attempts to undo Clean Missouri’s gerrymandering reforms in Tuesday’s election, one factor hasn’t received enough discussion: The Republican plan apparently would count only eligible voters when drawing legislative districts, instead of counting everyone. That would leave out about 1.5 million children.

Conveniently enough, such a move would diminish representation in largely Democratic urban areas, where a generally younger population means there are more children. This is among the many reasons voters on Tuesday should nix this blatant Republican power grab.

When Missouri resets its legislative boundaries every 10 years, the districts are required to have similar numbers of people in them, but how they’re drawn can dramatically affect how districts will vote in future elections. The gerrymandering in the current system is clear when Republicans hold about two-thirds of the seats in the Legislature, even though they generally win state elections by only around 10 percentage points.

Clean Missouri, the state constitutional amendment voters overwhelmingly approved in 2018, changes that system to draw districts under the guidance of a nonpartisan demographer. Ruling Republicans obviously didn’t like that idea despite Missouri voters’ approval with 62% of the vote.

State Republicans have managed to put a do-over on Tuesday’s ballot. They claim, insultingly, that Missourians weren’t clear on what they were voting for in 2018. The GOP’s Amendment 3 is touted as an attempt to roll back the Clean Missouri changes, which is bad enough. But it may actually do even worse.

The Republican plan removes language from current law saying districts “shall each have a total population as nearly equal as practicable,” and replaces it with a line calling for districts to be drawn on the basis of “one person, one vote.” The meaning of that phrase is debatable, with some arguing in recent court cases that it means only eligible voters get to be counted.

That certainly appears to be the interpretation of state Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, sponsor of the Republican plan. In floor debate in January, Hegeman said that language means those who “are able to vote are the people [who] are counted.” Which, of course, would leave out anyone under 18.

It’s plausible this is primarily an attempt to deny representation to tax-paying immigrants in Missouri, including legal residents. But no one should discount the possibility that Republicans are trying to deny representation to children as well to further solidify their power base.

This is the party, after all, that’s refusing to accept the reforms that almost two-thirds of Missourians approved. Since that message apparently didn’t get through last time, voters should send it more loudly on Tuesday by voting this down.