New redistricting rules reduce county splits in Missouri House map

Smaller counties, some divided among as many as four districts, can only be split once

By: - December 14, 2021 6:00 am

The Missouri House chamber (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications).

In Randolph County in central Missouri, there are places where a person can take two steps and move through three state House districts.

The county, with 24,716 people, doesn’t have enough population for a single House district, yet after the 2010 census, it was split among four. 

The same is true for Miller County, with 24,722 people.

This story was a collaboration between The Missouri Independent and Missouri School of Journalism reporters Jonathan Jain, MJ Montgomery, Lianna Johnson and Jackson Valenti.

Neighbors who live across the street from each other have different representatives, and it creates extra work – and expense – for county clerks who have to provide multiple ballots for voters who use the same polling place because they have different representatives.

If you live across the road, Rep. (Chuck) Basye is your representative,” said state Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly. “You live on the other side of the road, Rep. Lewis is your representative.”

The extra work at the polling place means careful planning so no one gets the wrong ballot, Lewis noted.

“The person handing out the ballot might have to give, give a ballot to, to one couple and then the next couple that comes along, they have to get the different ballot because they live on that side of the road and this person lives on this side of the road,” Lewis said.

That should change by the time voters head to the polls in August for primaries. Under maps proposed by members of the House Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission, Randolph and Miller counties are divided among only two House districts.

That’s because lawmakers added a new rule to the directions given to the commission in the Missouri Constitution. No county, unless it has enough population for two or more districts, is to be split more than once.

The new rule was added to a ballot measure approved in November that replaced a 2018 initiative proposal that made partisan balance a top priority for the 163 state House and 34 state Senate districts.

Republicans and Democrats on the commission, hoping to complete the redistricting process without intervention by the courts for the first time since 1991, have almost identical maps for rural areas of the state where counties have less than the 37,760 residents needed for an ideal district.

The new rule “has simplified it a great deal,” commission Chairman Jerry Hunter said after Monday’s commission meeting.

Previous redistricting rules did not prioritize keeping counties intact when political lines are drawn. That made sparsely populated counties tempting targets for gerrymandering, the process whereby lines are drawn to solidify a party’s political advantage.

Including Randolph and Miller, six of the 82 counties that have fewer than 37,760 residents are split among three or more districts. For counties equal to or greater than that population, whole districts are to be drawn, with any remainder less than a district attached to an adjoining county.

That should also simplify the final map for the 33 jurisdictions – 32 counties and the city of St. Louis – with populations above the ideal. Of those 33 jurisdictions, 21 have more than one district that spills into adjoining counties.

For example, the city of St. Louis currently has 11 districts, with three that include a portion of St. Louis County. Boone County has five, with three that include adjoining areas. Two take in sections of four counties.

Under the latest Republican map, St. Louis would have eight whole districts and no spillover. Boone County would have five, all within its boundaries.

Some counties may like the extra representation they currently have. Others may like the simplified maps, so voters are more sure about who represents them in Jefferson City.

For Randolph County Presiding Commissioner John Truesdell, the multiple splits aren’t a major concern.

It’s not really created a huge amount of problem,” Truesdell said. “Except maybe for my county clerk… to make sure that those ballots all got created and got sent to the right place.”

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.