Missouri lawmakers pass US House districts with GOP advantage
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.
Finally breaking a deadlock, the Missouri legislature gave final approval on Thursday to new congressional districts that are expected to maintain Republicans’ electoral advantage in a former swing state that has been trending increasingly red.
Missouri had been one of the last states to adopt new US House districts based on the 2020 census. That’s because Republicans who control both legislative chambers spent much of their session bickering. between them to know how aggressively to draw districts to their advantage and which communities to divide while balancing the population between districts.
Facing a 6 p.m. Friday deadline to pass the bills, the Senate voted 22 to 11 Thursday night to approve a map passed by the House earlier this week. The Senate then adjourned its session, halting work on all other bills.
The redistricting legislation now goes to Republican Gov. Mike Parson to become law.
Because the new districts have taken so long to pass, Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has warned that local election officials may not have enough time to fine-tune everyone’s voting addresses before ballots are released. are prepared for the August 2 primaries. As a result, he said it was possible for some voters to receive the wrong ballots.
Democrats and Republicans in many states have tried to use the once-a-decade redistricting process to give their candidates an edge as they battle for control of the tightly divided U.S. House. But it didn’t work in all cases.
Courts in Florida, Kansas, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Ohio have all overturned maps they say were drawn illegally. Legal battles continue in many of these states. New Hampshire is the only state outside of Missouri that hasn’t at least passed a redistricting plan.
Some Missouri Republicans had been pushing for an aggressive Gerrymander who would have split Democratic-leaning Kansas City and given the GOP a chance to win seven of the state’s eight U.S. House seats. But GOP legislative leaders feared it would backfire by spreading their voters too thinly and ultimately settled on a plan that bolstered their strength in the six districts they currently hold.
“I think gerrymandering is wrong no matter who does it,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said while defending the map that passed.
Despite calling it a “reasonably strong 6-2 card” for Republicans, conservative Sen. Bob Onder criticized his colleagues for not adopting an even more partisan plan. While lawmakers in other states were playing “hardball” on redistricting, “we’re playing t-ball,” he said.
Missouri has only one relatively competitive congressional district – the 2nd district of suburban St. Louis, held by Republican Rep. Ann Wagner. Republicans have made it a priority to fortify this district against Democratic gains.
The new plan boosts the Republican vote share there by 3 percentage points from current districts, according to a legislative staff analysis that focused on the best results from the 2016-20 election.
Republican voting strength would be reduced by a similar margin in the neighboring 3rd District, which surrounds the St. Louis area before expanding west into central Missouri. But the GOP would still have a considerable advantage there.
The redistricting plan also redraws the 5th District to focus more narrowly on the Kansas City area — helping Democrats — instead of expanding it to rural areas as is currently the case.
Some lawmakers said it didn’t make sense to try to tie Kansas City residents to rural voters.
“I believe the map succeeds in balancing all regions of Missouri and their different perspectives and interests in various congressional districts,” said Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee.
One of the communities most affected by the redistricting plan would be Columbia, the state’s fourth-largest city and home to the University of Missouri. A dividing line running through downtown would move the college campus and south side of the city into the 3rd District while the northern portion would remain in the 4th District which extends west to the Kansas border.
Although some states began working on redistricting shortly after the Census Bureau data was released last August, Missouri waited until its legislative session began in January. The House quickly passed a plan, but the Senate did not respond with its own version until March. The two chambers remained at odds as candidates ran for Congress unaware of the shape of their new districts. Several lawsuits have been filed to compel action in new districts, although no court has yet intervened to order this.