Amendment 1, often referred to as Clean Missouri, served as the focus of a Wednesday night League of Women Voters discussion led by speaker Greg Vonnahme, an associate professor of political science at UMKC. The issue goes to the voters next month.
According to league member Evelyn Maddox, the nonpartisan group decided to highlight the initiative-driven proposition at the North Independence branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library due to a noticed widespread confusion.
“When I ask friends and voters about Amendment 1, they don’t know anything about it,” Maddox said. “That’s concerning. Personally, if I don’t know about something, I don’t vote on it.”
Amendment 1 strives to restrict lobbyist gifts, increase transparency, emphasize fundraising, create a waiting period and stricter contribution limits and curb partisan gerrymandering. According to Vonnahme, the most significant aspect of the amendment to the MIssouri Constitution would be a change in the process and criteria of redrawing state legislative districts.
Currently, Missouri has a bipartisan redistricting commission. Seventy percent of its membership must approve of redrawn districts before they take effect.
However, Amendment 1 would create a new position: a nonpartisan state demographer who would draw the initial map before passing it to the commission. This redistricting would still require 70 percent approval.
In addition to this procedural change, Amendment 1 would specify a new set of redistricting standards. As it stands now, Missouri redistricting requirements relate to compactness – or the shapes and boundaries of districts – and remain some of the loosest regulations nationwide, according to Vonnahme. Under Amendment 1, this would shift.
“We would go from a relatively vague set of standards to some of the strictest and most specific standards,” Vonnahme said.
Amendment 1 would prioritize standards, outlining them in the following order of importance, that districts be (1) equally proportioned between Republicans and Democrats (2) protect minority voters (3) drive partisan competition and (4) be compact.
According to Vonnahme, this reduced emphasis on compactness has become Amendment 1 opponents’ biggest concern and talking point.
“In prioritizing competition over compactness, you could get some districts that look like spaghetti and meatballs,” said Vonnahme. “That might not make political sense. You might see people living in the same district that don’t have much in common.”
In contrast, Vonnahme also identified potential strengths of Amendment 1. Namely, he says it could bring about increased responsiveness toward voters and decrease polarization.
In an average election year, Vonnahme cited that 57 percent of Missouri’s state district races are contested, or, in other words, have more than one candidate. From there, only 20 percent of these races see the losing candidate obtain 40 percent of the vote. Yet Vonnahme esteems these statistics as average. Missouri’s Efficiency Gap, a widely used measure of partisan symmetry, is 7.3 percent, compared to the 9 percent maximum allowed.
The group behind Amendment 1 has named a desire to have more 50-50 races as one of its strongest motivations.
“People might be more willing to vote because another candidate is actually running, or their vote might actually matter,” Vonnahme stated.
Anitra Steele, the league’s forum chair, said that concern about gerrymandering drove the group’s decision to endorse Amendment 1.
“We have been concerned about gerrymandering for a very long time,” Steele said. “This starts addressing the problem of equal representation.”
Along with these changes, Amendment 1 would limit lobbyists to $5 donations per gift and stop legislative funding on all state property.
Vonnahme predicted that Amendment 1 would pass, calling government issues the most successful and easiest to pass initiatives.
“Everyone has opinions about the way government should function, as compared to more technical policy issues,” Vonnahme explained. “Voters hate campaign money. That’s a bipartisan issue. Partisan gerrymandering is contested by almost all voters, but we keep doing it.”
Despite this prediction, Vonnahme expressed doubts about if Amendment 1 will prove to be enforceable or effective in creating competition.