Supporters of a 2018 measure that changed the state's redistricting process say they have even more support this year opposing an amendment that seeks to undo it.
Members of Clean Missouri, a group campaigning against Amendment 3 on the Nov. 3 ballot, hosted two Joplin community leaders Thursday in a virtual news conference targeted for the Joplin area. They said the measure would not only revert Missouri's House and Senate district drawing to its former process but add provisions that would reduce the representation of more populated areas such as Joplin.
"It's not just a proposed return to the previous system, which would be frustrating enough," said Sean Soendker Nicholson, a spokesperson for the group. "It adds more partisanship, secrecy and weakens protections to allow more gerrymandering."
Nicholson said the group has bipartisan support from former Republican and Democratic senators and numerous city officials.
The amendment effectively reverses key parts of an anti-gerrymandering measure Missourians passed two years ago by requiring a nonpartisan state demographer to redraw state House and Senate districts according to a specific mathematical formula. Marketed as the Clean Missouri Amendment, the measure also added new limitations on lobbyist gifts and campaign donations.
Because it's a census year, the redistricting part of the measure is in the spotlight. The state will soon undergo that process once the census is completed.
Under the new law, Democrats stand to make gains across the state — not enough to replace a Republican majority in the General Assembly but enough to bring those majorities closer to the division often reflected in statewide races, according to a 2018 analysis by The Associated Press.
District 32 Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, said he and other Republicans in the Legislature drew up Amendment 3 arguing that the former system worked just fine because it involved people from both parties.
"This puts a lot of power into one person's hand, with no counterbalance or check at all," White said. "I always liked groups a lot better because you're going to have more people involved and you get a better hashed-out result."
The problem with Amendment 3, Nicholson said, stems from a provision that appears to reduce the number of people who would be counted in a district.
Senate Joint Resolution 38, the bill Amendment 3 proposes to enact, states that districts "shall be drawn on the basis of one person, one vote," effectively switching from counting a total population to a voting population.
That could lead to up to 55,620 in Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties not being accounted for in new legislative districts, according to data provided by the group. Neely Myers, spokesperson for a branch of the League of Women Voters representing the Joplin area, said that could lead to revenue loss for the area.
"This is a fantastic area to raise a family," Myers said. "Our communities could see a significant revenue loss if they are not counted accurately, much like with the census."
Nanda Nunnelly, president of the Negro Service Council of Joplin, said the amendment also threatens to underrepresent minorities.
"Everyone should be counted," Nunnelly said. "This could definitely hurt members of Black and brown communities, especially in large urban areas."
White said he disagrees that the law would be interpreted in such a way and that the intent was to ensure a fair count of all people.
The ballot measure has already seen changes. The original ballot language was ruled in August by Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce as insufficient, unfair and partly false. The language was replaced with a summary suggested by Clean Missouri officials that states the amendment would repeal the 2018 law and replace it with rules proposed by the Legislature.
White said the judge's changes defied precedent.
"I think it's harder to understand now," White said. "I have an issue with the separation of powers. (The Legislature) had the authority to write that language, and the Secretary of State had the right to approve it. For a court to change that by challenging is outside the province of the judiciary."