Jefferson City – A circuit judge has thrown out the misleading Republican-drafted ballot language of Amendment 3 (Dirty Missouri) and rewrote the ballot summary for a measure aimed at repealing new, voter-approved redistricting reforms enacted with the passage of Clean Missouri.
In her ruling, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce called various aspects of the original wording crafted by Republican lawmakers “misleading,” “objectively untrue,” “literally false” and a “deception,” among other strongly worded terms.
The Republican-controlled legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 38 in May. The proposed constitutional amendment seeks to reverse and overhaul Missouri’s statehouse redistricting process that voters overwhelmingly ratified in 2018 as Amendment 1, also known as Clean Missouri.
SJR 38 will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot as Amendment 3.
Although the Missouri secretary of state traditionally writes the ballot language for measures sent to voters, SJR 38’s sponsor, state Sen Dan Hegeman (R-Cosby) exercised his prerogative under state law to include his own ballot language in the legislation. Hegeman’s language makes no mention of repealing the new redistricting process created by Clean Missouri, an omission Judge Joyce said obscures SJR 38’s main goal.
GOAL TO REPEAL CLEAN MISSOURI
“The ‘central purpose’ or ‘primary objective’ of SJR 38 is to effectively repeal Amendment 1,” Joyce wrote. “Accordingly, the summary statement must alert voters to that change in some fashion. Instead, the General Assembly’s statement does not mention the change at all. It is insufficient, unfair and must be rewritten.”
Under Clean Missouri, a non-partisan state demographer is charged with drawing new state House and Senate districts based on constitutionally established criteria, including partisan fairness and competitive balance. SJR 38 seeks to reinstate a modified version of Missouri’s old redistricting system, under which partisan commissions controlled by the two major political parties had first crack at crafting new legislative districts.
Missouri Republicans generally oppose the Clean Missouri reforms, fearing the loss of district gerrymandering will weaken their party’s two decades of legislative dominance. The new redistricting system is slated to be used for the first time during next year’s redistricting cycle.
In addition to omitting the central purpose of Amendment 3, Joyce said the Republican ballot language also makes false, misleading or overstated claims about other aspects of the proposal.
“This sort of deception is the exact evil the summary statement is meant to combat, not promote,” Joyce wrote.
NEW BALLOT LANGUAGE
Joyce’s rewritten ballot language focuses on the proposed repeal of the new redistricting system, while more accurately describing minor changes Amendment 3 would make regarding restrictions on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and contribution limits to Senate candidates.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, is appealing Joyce’s decision on behalf of Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, also a Republican, and Republican legislative leaders. A three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District is scheduled to hear the case, Barbara Pippens, et al., v. John R. Ashcroft, et al., on Aug. 28.
CRITICAL TO VOTERS UNDERSTANDING
Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council, said a clear summary statement is critical because “most people going into that voting booth get a summary and they read the summary and decide how they should vote. The judge said the summary was misleading, so she threw it out.
“Partisan gerrymandering of legislative districts isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue. Both parties do it, and the result is disenfranchisement of voters. That’s what Amendment 1 (Clean Missouri) was designed to fix.
“Anybody who has been around for a long time knows gerrymandering is what really screwed this state up,” White stressed. “At one time, we had five statewide Democrats in office and everything else was Republican. That tells you they’ve cut up those maps, and they’re doing it all over the country. Quite frankly, both parties do it. Gerrymandering has really screwed up this country. It’s what the Koch Brothers have been teaching with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) and everything else they do for years. Missouri is a perfect example. Hopefully, we can beat that and defeat Amendment 3 in November.”