Life support

Missouri congressional redistricting on life support

Before entering the Missouri Senate lounge, State Rep. Dan Shaul reached into his pocket and pulled out a mint.

The chairman of a House committee redrawing Missouri’s eight congressional districts expected to present a plan his colleagues adopted earlier this week. He remarked, “It’s kind of ironic that we eat Life Savers.”

Shaul’s quip proved prophetic: The Senate redistricting committee showed up Thursday afternoon, then retired seconds later. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft called on lawmakers to drop their last-ditch attempt to draw a map before Friday’s adjournment.

Ashcroft says there is legal precedent for using the existing map, but others disagree.

Missouri’s redistricting impasse has been going on for months. The many disputes include whether to make districts more Republican-friendly and how to change Missouri’s 2nd congressional district to the St. Louis area. The map passed by the House likely retains the current Congressional split of six Republicans and two Democrats.

Lawmakers are trying to push through a revised plan in the final week of the session. But in an interview Thursday, Ashcroft said passing a new map before Friday’s adjournment would create huge logistical problems for local election officials.

Specifically, they need time to move voters whose congressional districts change due to the map passed by the legislature. Ashcroft says they could potentially change dozens of people in less than a week.

“The problem is you’ll get the wrong ballot because local election officials don’t have enough time to do the double-checking and triple-checking that we like to do,” Ashcroft said. “We like to be methodical and use lots of checklists and go over things multiple times.”

Local election officials like Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller have been sounding the alarm for months that failing to pass a Congressional map would present a logistical nightmare as Congress approaches. the August 2 primary.

“There are a lot of addresses that you have to move every time you need to change districts,” Schoeller said. “Even though theoretically they thought they had finished all the work, as I told people, they don’t have time to go and check the work. It would be like building a house and a family moving in, but no one ever inspected the house to make sure it was built properly.

Frozen in time?

Ashcroft argues that if lawmakers don’t pass a map, courts will likely require candidates to run in districts created in 2011. This is based on a precedent known as Purcell’s Principle, in which federal judges falter. to make decisions related to the elections. close to when voters go to the polls.

Other election experts disagree with this assumption, saying having elections based on a map created 10 years ago violates prohibitions on having districts with unequal populations. They expect federal courts to draw what’s called a “least-modified map” that alters borders due to population changes – but keeps the map somewhat similar to the current map.

Asked if he was concerned that a federal court might end up drawing a map, Ashcroft replied, “Actually, I don’t worry.”

“The United States Supreme Court has been very clear that federal courts should not be required to draw new maps,” Ashcroft said. “Why? Because they are afraid it will cause confusion and difficulty in running the election well. We are at that stage now.

Ashcroft said he had not spoken sooner because, among other things, letters were sent to lawmakers in January outlining “the dates we needed to be able to close our voter registration system to ensure that it was going” smoothly.

“And I communicated those concerns to lawmakers more privately, because I didn’t want to be confrontational about it,” Ashcroft said. “I know the leadership has been said very clearly by the [county clerks] a week or two ago, it’s too late. And when it looked like it was going to continue, I had to defend the local electoral authorities.

Ashcroft, a Republican, was a supporter of creating a map that would elect seven Republicans and one Democrat — a proposal that faced bipartisan opposition in the Missouri General Assembly. If lawmakers don’t pass a map, the end result is likely to help Democrats, because a 2011 map or a slightly modified plan would keep the 2nd Congressional District competitive.

“I think the data would suggest it’s better for Democrats to stick with the 2020 (election) map and use it in 2022 than for a Republican-controlled legislature to create a more pro-Republican map,” Ashcroft said. “I want voters to know with certainty that they will be able to vote. They will know who to vote for – and their vote will count.

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn at 6 p.m. Friday.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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