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Why Clean Missouri Backers Hope To Stop Amendment 3

GOP Reps. Dean Plocher, R-Town and Country, and Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, discuss a state redistricting ballot item on May 13, 2020.
Tim Bommel I St. Louis Public Radio
Reps. Dean Plocher, R-Town and Country, and Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, discuss Amendment 3 in May.

Two years ago, voters across the state said yes to Clean Missouri. The initiative amended the state constitution to limit gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, opened government records to public scrutiny and changed how legislative districts are drawn. Nearly 62% of Missouri voters were in favor of the changes.

But legislators moved to undo key pieces of Clean Missouri almost as soon as voters approved it. This November, the Legislature is asking voters to consider a replacement amendment.

If approved, Amendment 3 wouldn’t just repeal big parts of what voters said yes to. It would enshrine in the state constitution new rules for drawing legislative districts, along with language that Clean Missouri backers say is unprecedented.

A big part of that is the idea of “one person/one vote.”

Sean Soendker Nicholson, campaign director of No on Amendment 3, explained Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air that one of the biggest changes the repeal amendment would make affects who gets counted when drawing up legislative districts. Like every other state in the union, he said, Missouri has long used census data to tally its population.

But Amendment 3 would change that standard, employing instead the population of eligible voters. No longer would children, immigrants without voting rights or those on probation or parole count toward a district’s composition.

“It would be 71,000 St. Louis city residents just cut out of the maps,” Nicholson explained. “It would be huge chunks of suburban communities. Places like O’Fallon and St. Charles and Wentzville, Florissant and Ferguson, where there are just a lot of kids, especially a lot of kids as a percentage of their population. It would be profound, and it’s a really big deal.”

Nicholson explained that Amendment 3 would also make it more difficult for voters to sue in Missouri courts over badly drawn districts.

“It says, ‘If you’re in an overpacked district, we’re going to make it nearly impossible to bring a lawsuit,’” he said. “And then they want to tell judges, ‘Even if you want to find that a map is unconstitutional or illegal, we are not going to let you throw the whole thing out and start over.’ Which is something that happened in Missouri nine years ago, and something that happens around the country when politicians and lobbyists get too cute.”

Nicholson acknowledged that he’s been fighting to keep Clean Missouri in place without pause since winning the statewide campaign two years ago — a multifront battle that’s included the court system in addition to the Legislature and the polls. Just last Friday, he and other Clean Missouri backers were in court to challenge the Amendment 3 ballot language submitted by the Legislature.

A decision on that language is expected by week’s end. It will likely go to the appeals court, but it will be on a tight track. Ballot language needs to be finalized by early September, Nicholson said.

While there is not yet a political campaign to support Amendment 3, the broadcast included audio from two legislators who sponsored its placement on the ballot.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.