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Missouri Secretary of State tells legislature: Stop trying to draw a new congressional map

The Missouri Secretary of State’s office on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri Secretary of State’s office on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri.

As the Missouri Senate struggles to take up a revamped congressional map, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft claims there’s legal precedent for using the existing map — but experts disagree.

Before he entered the Missouri Senate lounge, state Rep. Dan Shaul reached into his pocket and took out a mint.

The chairman of a House committee redrawing Missouri’s eight congressional districts was expecting to present a plan his colleagues passed earlier this week. He remarked: “It’s kind of ironic that we’re eating lifesavers.”

Shaul’s quip turned out to be prophetic: The Senate committee handling congressional redistricting gaveled in on Thursday afternoon and then recessed just seconds later. It comes as Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is calling on lawmakers to abandon their last-ditch attempt to draw a map before Friday’s adjournment.

Ashcroft says there’s legal precedent for using the existing map but other experts disagree.

Missouri’s congressional redistricting impasse has stretched on for months. The numerous conflicts include whether to make the map more Republican and how to change Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District in the St. Louis area. The House-passed map likely keeps the existing congressional breakdown of six Republicans and two Democrats.

Lawmakers are trying to push through a revised plan in the final week of session. But in an interview on Thursday, Ashcroft said passing a new map before adjournment Friday would create tremendous logistical issues for local election officials.

Specifically, they need time to move voters whose congressional districts change because of whatever map that legislature passes. Ashcroft says they would need to potentially change scores of people in less than a week.

“The concern is that you’ll get the wrong ballot, because there’s not enough time for the local election authorities to do the double checking and triple checking that we like to do,” Ashcroft said. “We like to be methodical and use a lot of checklists and go over things multiple times.”

Local election officials like Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller have been sounding alarm bells for months that failure to pass a congressional map would present a logistical nightmare in the run up to the Aug. 2 primary.

“There’s a lot of addresses you have to move any time you need to move districts,” Schoeller said. “Even if theoretically they thought they completed all the work, as I told people there’s no time to go and check the work. It would be like building a house and a family moving into it — but nobody every inspected the home to make sure it was built correctly.”

Frozen in time?

Ashcroft contends that if lawmakers don’t pass a map, courts are likely to require candidates to run in districts that were created in 2011. That’s based off precedent known as the Purcell principle where federal judges are hesitant to make election-related rulings close to when voters go to the polls.

Other election experts disagree with that assumption, contending that having elections based on a map created 10 years ago violates prohibitions against having districts of unequal populations. They expect federal courts to draw what’s known as “least changed map” that alters boundaries due to population shifts — but keeps the map somewhat similar to where it is now.

When asked if he was worried about a federal court ending up drawing an altered map, Ashcroft said, “I’m actually not concerned about that.”

“The United States Supreme Court has been very clear that federal courts should not be required to draw new maps,” Ashcroft said. “Why? Because they’re afraid it will cause confusion and difficulties running the election well. We are at that point now.”

Ashcroft said he didn’t speak out earlier because, among other things, letters were sent to lawmakers in January outlining “the dates we needed to be able to close our voter registration system to make sure this went” smoothly.

“And I have communicated these concerns to the legislators more in a private manner, because I didn’t want to be confrontational about it,” Ashcroft said. “I know that leadership was told very clearly by the [county clerks] a week or two weeks ago it’s too late. And when it looked like it was going to continue, I had to stand up for the local election authorities.”

Ashcroft was a proponent of creating a map with seven Republicans and one Democrat — a proposal that has run into bipartisan opposition in the Missouri General Assembly. But if lawmakers don’t pass a map, it’s likely that the end result will help Democrats — because either a 2011 map or a slightly altered plan would keep the 2nd Congressional District competitive.

“I think the data would suggest that it’s better for Democrats to stay with the 2020 (election) map and use that in 2022 than for a Republican-controlled legislature to make a more pro-Republican map,” Ashcroft said. “I want voters to know with certainty that they will be able to vote. They’ll know who to vote on — and their vote will count.”

Lawmakers are slated to adjourn at 6 p.m. Friday.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.
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