Missouri GOP Hints At Voting Rights Overhaul To Undermine Immigrant Vote

Missouri state capitol building in Jefferson City. (Photo by: Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images)
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April 23, 2019 5:09 p.m.

Missouri’s GOP legislature appears to be considering, again, a change to its redistricting process that would have major impacts on the political representation of immigrant-heavy regions.

Republican lawmakers filed an amendment that would change the standard in how legislative districts are drawn. It would require that they be drawn on a vague “one person, one vote, using data ” basis, rather on the basis of total population, as is currently the practice in all 50 states.

The tweak in language is not as explicit as it was in an unsuccessful previous GOP push to draw Missouri’s districts based on the numbers of citizens rather than total population. But if lawmakers use this new language to justify drawing districts in a way that excludes non-citizens, it could become a test case to determine whether the approach will be allowed nationally.

The latest proposal comes as part of a broader push by the Missouri’s Republicans to gut a anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative passed by voters in the state last fall. Michael Li, a voting rights experts at the Brennan Center, noted on Twitter that the language was “disturbing” and that it would “set the stage for the legislature to attempt to draw districts in 2021 on the basis of eligible voters or citizens.”

The amendment also comes as the Supreme Court reviews, in arguments heard Tuesday, the Trump administration’s decision to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The administration has claimed that it is including the question because of a Justice Department request seeking more accurate citizenship data for Voting Rights Act enforcement.

But the internal records released in the case have revealed that the VRA enforcement rationale was put forward many months after Ross began pushing for the question’s addition and after the Justice Department and other agencies resisted requesting it.

Meanwhile, those who have pushed to have citizens excluded from redistricting have made clear they’d like to use the data from a census citizenship question to do so.

At Tuesday’s arguments, Justice Neil Gorsuch seemed to nod to their arguments. In a previous Supreme Court case dealing with whether states should be required to use a citizen-based metric for redistricting, two of his conservative colleagues on the bench also suggested they’d be at least open to giving states the choice.

At the time of the past Supreme Court case, which was called Evenwel v. Abbott, study showed that “more than half of all districts would be substantially changed” if states switched to drawing districts based on citizens of voting age, and that shift would “substantially favor increasing the number of Republican-dominated districts.”

If any state or locality chooses to draw its political districts this way, it will likely prompt a legal battle that will go back to the Supreme Court.

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