Missouri voters on Tuesday reversed course from two years ago by passing Amendment 3, which scraps the Clean Missouri state legislative redistricting system.
Opponents of the measure, which had vastly outspent its backers, conceded shortly after midnight. With 98% of votes counted, the amendment was passing with 51%.
Besides making marginal changes to restrictions on lobbyist gifts and campaign donation limits, Amendment 3 effectively ends a redistricting system that voters backed in 2018. Widely known as Clean Missouri, that plan would have empowered a demographer to draw House and Senate districts that emphasized partisan fairness and competitiveness.
Because voters approved Amendment 3, either bipartisan commissions or appellate judges will draw state legislative maps. And the criteria used is markedly different than under Clean Missouri, with the competitiveness and partisan fairness standards changed and deprioritized. Instead, factors like compactness are moved up in the list of redistricting priorities.
Missouri’s Republican lawmakers placed Amendment 3 on the 2020 ballot. They had numerous complaints about Clean Missouri, contending that it was deceptively marketed as an ethics overhaul when in reality it was about state legislative redistricting.
Republicans also pushed back against arguments that Clean Missouri was about leveling the legislative playing field. Instead, the GOP contended that plan was actually about helping Democrats gain ground in the General Assembly in an increasingly conservative state.
One of the key backers of Amendment 3 was the Missouri Farm Bureau, which strongly campaigned for the measure’s passage.
“The people of Missouri were loud and clear today in rejecting out-of-state meddling in our elections,” said Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst. “Amendment 3 will continue to keep our communities whole in next year’s redistricting process. We were outspent more than 150-to-1, but this result shows that the power of grassroots politics can still overcome the influence of huge donors. We appreciate all of the support from the Missourians who joined us in this guerrilla campaign on behalf of the people of our state.”
Even though Amendment 3 foes were able to raise millions on television ads, proponents of the measure appeared to have an advantage: An appeals court wrote a ballot summary that listed the slight changes to lobbyist gift and campaign donation limits before a bullet point on the redistricting alterations.
In a statement, the opposition campaign to Amendment 3 said, “We are very disappointed that the politicians' lies and deception were effective enough to pass Amendment 3.”
“Nevertheless, we are committed to ensuring as fair an outcome as possible when new maps are drawn in 2021,” the unsigned statement says. “Amendment 3 was written to allow for truly radical gerrymandering, but it does not require it. The broad, bipartisan coalition that passed the Clean Missouri Amendment will be active and engaged in the 2021 redistricting process to ensure that voters and communities come first in new maps, not politicians.”
While both sides of the Amendment 3 debate and the judges who wrote the summary emphasized the commissions during their respective marketing campaigns, appellate judges will likely yield most of the power during the redistricting process. That’s because the bipartisan commissions are split evenly between the two parties. And since at least 14 members need to vote to approve a map, they will likely deadlock as they have in previous redistricting cycles.
Some Amendment 3 proponents said judges are fairer redistricting arbiters because they aren’t directly elected or appointed by the governor. But others have said appellate judges lack redistricting expertise and therefore should not play such a major role in drawing House and Senate boundaries.
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