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Gerrymandering Away Missouri’s Future

Excluding children and noncitizens from redistricting calculations would exacerbate racial inequality.

Published: September 18, 2020


In Novem­ber 2018, Missouri voters passed a ballot initi­at­ive designed to bring inde­pend­ence and racial and partisan fair­ness to a redis­trict­ing process often waylaid by incum­bent protec­tion, polit­ical interests, and partisan dead­lock. The success of these reforms at the ballot box demon­strated the broad desire in Missouri for fairer redis­trict­ing and was the product of years of advocacy and coali­tion-build­ing.

However, just two years later, lawmakers are seek­ing to dismantle these reforms. Amend­ment 3, which will be on the ballot in Novem­ber 2020, would roll back voter-approved protec­tions, resur­rect­ing some of the worst parts of the old, abuse-prone system. Troub­lingly, Amend­ment 3 would go even further, also open­ing the door to chan­ging who will count when districts are drawn.

Every ten years, polit­ical districts around the coun­try are redrawn, or redis­tric­ted, to make sure that they are roughly equal in popu­la­tion, as required by the U.S. Consti­tu­tion. Currently, all 50 states use total popu­la­tion when doing this, which ensures that every­one is considered when draw­ing district bound­ar­ies. Amend­ment 3 would replace the Missouri Consti­tu­tion’s current total-popu­la­tion language with new language that, accord­ing to its proponents at least, would allow map draw­ers to consider only the number of U.S. citizens over the age of 18 (that is, adult citizens) when sizing districts, effect­ively cutting out chil­dren and noncit­izens from repres­ent­a­tion.

Should Amend­ment 3 pass and its proponents convince map draw­ers to make Missouri the first state in the nation to exclude chil­dren and noncit­izens from appor­tion­ment, the result­ing districts would have starkly differ­ent popu­la­tions.

Given Missour­i’s current popu­la­tion, each state senate and house district should have roughly 179,000 and 37,500 people, respect­ively, when lines are redrawn in 2021. But under a switch to adult citizen appor­tion­ment, each senate and house seat would need to have 135,000 and 28,000 adult citizens, with no regard for the number of chil­dren or noncit­izens resid­ing within each district. foot­note1_4s0yt8g 1 These numbers are derived from the Amer­ican Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estim­ates and Citizen Voting Age Popu­la­tion Special Tabu­la­tion, which provide the most recent count of Missour­i’s total popu­la­tion and adult citizen popu­la­tion. By divid­ing those totals by the number of state house and senate districts, we can predict the size of Missouri legis­lat­ive districts under each appor­tion­ment basis. U.S. Census Bureau, “2014–2018 5-Year Amer­ican Community Survey,”; and U.S. Census Bureau, “Citizen Voting Age Popu­la­tion (CVAP) Special Tabu­la­tion from the 2014–2018 5-Year Amer­ican Community Survey,”­nial-census/about/voting-rights/cvap/2014–2018-CVAP.html.  Because chil­dren and noncit­izens are not evenly distrib­uted across the state, districts drawn on the basis of adult citizens would have wildly differ­ing total popu­la­tions. And this, in turn, means that Missouri­ans who live in communit­ies with many chil­dren or noncit­izens would get less repres­ent­a­tion than others.

Such a change would be a radical depar­ture from current prac­tice and histor­ical norms. Indeed, the text of the Missouri Consti­tu­tion has required the use of total popu­la­tion as the relev­ant basis for districts since 1875. foot­note2_thwt0ek 2 See Mo. Const. of 1875, art. IV, § 2, 5, 7, 9; and Mo. Const. art. III, § 3(c)(1) (amended 2018).  Amend­ment 3 appears to be the vanguard of a broader conser­vat­ive strategy to exclude chil­dren and noncit­izens from being coun­ted. foot­note3_tf4dndp 3 Indeed, litig­a­tion around the addi­tion a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census revealed the interest on the part of prom­in­ent conser­vat­ive strategists to exclude noncit­izens and chil­dren from the appor­tion­ment count for polit­ical gain. See Letter Motion to Compel Defend­ants to Show Cause at Exhibit D, New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, No. 18-cv-2921 (S.D.N.Y. 2018). Further, the Guard­ian repor­ted connec­tions between Amend­ment 3’s back­ers and national conser­vat­ive oper­at­ives that indic­ate this state effort is in coordin­a­tion with and a precursor to a larger national Repub­lican strategy: “Some activ­ists believe national Repub­lic­ans are involved. . . . Dale Oldham, a top Repub­lican redis­trict­ing consult­ant and [Thomas] Hofeller’s long­time busi­ness part­ner, and Adam Kincaid, who leads the National Repub­lican Redis­trict­ing Trust, met with the Missouri senate pres­id­ent in April 2019, accord­ing to a calen­dar invit­a­tion obtained by Clean Missouri and provided to the Guard­ian.” Sam Levine, “Missouri Repub­lic­ans on the Verge of Gutting Gerry­man­der­ing Reform,” Guard­ian, May 11, 2020, https://www.theguard­­lic­ans-gutting-gerry­man­der­ing-reform.  The politi­cians and lobby­ists behind the meas­ure have close ties to national conser­vat­ive oper­at­ives includ­ing Thomas Hofeller, foot­note4_ojx9u40 4 The law firm that draf­ted Amend­ment 3 previ­ously repres­en­ted the National Repub­lican Redis­trict­ing Trust in gerry­man­der­ing litig­a­tion. Graves Garrett LLC, “Supreme Court Adopts Posi­tion of Graves Garrett Client in Gerry­man­der­ing Case; Greim, Luetke­meyer Author Op-Ed on Rulings for USA Today,” July 16, 2019, https://www.graves­gar­­tion-of-graves-garrett-client-in-gerry­man­der­ing-case-greim-luetke­meyer-author-op-ed-on-rulings-for-usa-today/. Graves Garrett also directly repres­en­ted Thomas Hofeller when he was the only defense witness in a 2012 chal­lenge to Missour­i’s maps. Brief of Inter­venor Respond­ents, Febru­ary 13, 2012, Pear­son v. Koster, No. SC92317 (Mo. 2012).  whose posthum­ously released memos revealed a scheme among high-rank­ing Repub­lican donors and oper­at­ives to encour­age states to make a “radical depar­ture” from total popu­la­tion to adult citizen appor­tion­ment, arguing that it would be “advant­age­ous to Repub­lic­ans and non-Hispanic whites.” foot­note5_jgm9dkg 5 See Letter Motion to Compel Defend­ants to Show Cause at Exhibit D, New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce.

This analysis looks at what the distri­bu­tion of repres­ent­a­tion would be under adult citizen–­based districts. To be sure, Amend­ment 3 does not require Missouri to depart from its long-stand­ing prac­tice of total popu­la­tion–­based appor­tion­ment. And any attempt to draw maps based on adult citizens would leave Missouri vulner­able to a host of lawsuits. But should those behind Amend­ment 3 succeed in trans­form­ing who counts when districts are drawn, the effects on the state, and on Black, Latino, and Asian communit­ies in partic­u­lar, would be profound:

  • More than a quarter of all Missouri­ans would be left uncoun­ted. Among the uncoun­ted, more than 90 percent would be citizen chil­dren.
  • There are stark racial dispar­it­ies in who would get excluded. Only 21 percent of Missour­i’s white popu­la­tion would go uncoun­ted. By contrast, 28 percent of Missour­i’s Black popu­la­tion, 54 percent of its Asian popu­la­tion, and 54 percent of its Latino popu­la­tion would be erased when district lines are drawn.
  • The two large metro­pol­itan areas in Missouri — greater Kansas City and the St. Louis suburbs — would be hit espe­cially hard, losing the most repres­ent­a­tion.
  • Three of the four major­ity-Black senate districts in Missouri would need addi­tional adult citizens, making it harder for communit­ies of color to main­tain their current level of polit­ical influ­ence in these and surround­ing districts.

Who Would Be Excluded from the Count?

A shift to adult citizen appor­tion­ment would mean exclud­ing a substan­tial portion of the popu­la­tion when draw­ing districts — specific­ally, chil­dren under 18 and noncit­izens. Roughly 1.5 million people in Missouri — nearly a quarter of the popu­la­tion — would be erased from the count under such a shift. House­holds with chil­dren would bear the brunt of the change; more than 91 percent of the excluded popu­la­tion would be citizen chil­dren.

Worse yet, the shift to an adult citizen appor­tion­ment base would yield sharp racial dispar­it­ies. Only 21 percent of Missour­i’s white popu­la­tion would be excluded under this shift, as compared to 28 percent of the state’s Black popu­la­tion, 54 percent of its Asian popu­la­tion, and 54 percent of its Latino popu­la­tion.

Notably, many of the excluded chil­dren will turn 18 and become eligible to vote at some point during the decade that the district maps are in effect. foot­note6_ywuluqm 6 Because maps are drawn every ten years, any child over the age of eight when the census is taken will be eligible to vote in at least one elec­tion before the next redis­trict­ing cycle.  Nonethe­less, under adult citizen appor­tion­ment, even these future eligible voters would not be coun­ted.

The white popu­la­tion makes up roughly 79.5 percent of all Missouri­ans but more than 83 percent of adult citizens. Thus, under adult citizen appor­tion­ment, the white popu­la­tion would account for a larger percent­age of those coun­ted for repres­ent­a­tion than it does under total popu­la­tion appor­tion­ment.

These dispar­it­ies are largely driven by differ­ences in the propor­tion of chil­dren among Missour­i’s racial and ethnic communit­ies. This is because 26 percent of Black and 37 percent of Latino communit­ies are minors, mean­ing that these groups would be espe­cially hard-hit by a meas­ure that prin­cip­ally func­tions to exclude chil­dren from the count.

Which Communit­ies Would Lose Repres­ent­a­tion?

In order to fully under­stand the ulti­mate repres­ent­a­tional impact of a shift to adult citizen appor­tion­ment, it is also neces­sary to assess the geographic distri­bu­tion of Missour­i’s popu­la­tion. If chil­dren and noncit­izens were evenly distrib­uted across Missouri, no communit­ies would lose repres­ent­a­tion with a shift to adult citizen appor­tion­ment. In other words, all areas of the state and all of its communit­ies would see the same propor­tional popu­la­tion reduc­tions and there­fore receive the same number of repres­ent­at­ives as before.

But, if impacted house­holds are instead clustered within a partic­u­lar region or county, then certain communit­ies will suffer repres­ent­a­tional loss — that is, receive fewer districts (or a smal­ler share of a district) than they would if their entire popu­la­tion was coun­ted. Mean­while, communit­ies with a smal­ler share of chil­dren and noncit­izens will receive a wind­fall, gain­ing that repres­ent­a­tion.

Based on the distri­bu­tion of the excluded popu­la­tion, the two large metro­pol­itan areas in Missouri — greater Kansas City and the St. Louis suburbs — stand to lose the most repres­ent­a­tion under adult citizen appor­tion­ment. The impact would be most felt by Jack­son and Clay Counties in west­ern Missouri, St. Louis and St. Charles Counties in east­ern Missouri, and Joplin County in south­west­ern Missouri.

When this analysis is applied to the current state senate map, the discrim­in­at­ory impacts become more concrete.

Under adult citizen appor­tion­ment, each senate district would need to have close to 134,882 adult citizens to be perfectly appor­tioned. In prac­tice, states are allowed to devi­ate, so the accept­able range for each seat would be from approx­im­ately 128,138 to 141,626 adult citizens. foot­note7_9re63rw 7 States are permit­ted to have districts that devi­ate up to 10 percent. See Gaffney v. Cummings, 412 U.S. 735 (1973). Accord­ingly, we took the total adult citizen popu­la­tion in Missouri and divided it by the number of state senate districts to derive the “ideal” adult citizen popu­la­tion (134,882) for each seat. We then calcu­lated the lower threshold (128,138), which is 5 percent below the ideal, and the upper threshold (141,626), which is 5 percent above.  Districts below this range would need to be redrawn to raise their adult citizen popu­la­tion and those above the threshold redrawn to lower it. Communit­ies that end up in under­pop­u­lated districts would suffer at least some harm, because addi­tional constitu­ents would be added without any addi­tional repres­ent­a­tion. foot­note8_dwj0e7k 8 If an area has enough under­pop­u­lated districts, one of two things could happen during the redis­trict­ing process. The map drawer could collapse the exist­ing under­pop­u­lated districts into one another, redu­cing the number of districts that the area would receive and ensur­ing that each resid­ent of the area would end up in larger districts. Or, in less extreme cases, the map drawer could simply expand the borders of the under­pop­u­lated districts to bring in addi­tional adult citizens from nearby over­pop­u­lated districts. This would mean that most resid­ents in under­pop­u­lated districts would end up in larger districts while those in over­pop­u­lated districts would mostly end up in smal­ler ones. Even these seem­ingly small changes, repeated again and again across a state, could dramat­ic­ally trans­form the makeup of a legis­lature, shift­ing power from areas of the state that lose repres­ent­a­tion and toward areas that gain it. In either case, areas that lose repres­ent­a­tion and communit­ies that end up in under­pop­u­lated districts stand to receive less repres­ent­a­tion during the next redis­trict­ing cycle.

The table below lists the six senate districts that would need to bring in addi­tional adult citizens, thus rais­ing their over­all popu­la­tion.

Senate districts 9, 13, and 14 would be three of the four most under­pop­u­lated districts under adult citizen appor­tion­ment. They are also three of the four major­ity-Black districts in Missouri, each of which has sent Black repres­ent­at­ives to the state capital. Collect­ively, these districts currently repres­ent 42 percent of the state’s Black popu­la­tion. foot­note9_mbj5c3c 9 ACS 2018 5-Year Estim­ates show these are the three senate districts with the highest percent­age of Black people. There are 295,830 Black people currently resid­ing in these districts, making up 42 percent of Missour­i’s entire Black popu­la­tion (701,990). U.S. Census Bureau, “2014–2018 5-Year Amer­ican Community Survey.”  Like­wise, Districts 9 and 11 have the two highest Latino popu­la­tions among the state’s senate districts. foot­note10_glce5rp 10 Districts 9 and 11 have 18,284 and 21,491 Lati­nos, respect­ively. Lati­nos make up 10.9 percent and 12.8 percent of their respect­ive popu­la­tions. U.S. Census Bureau, “2014–2018 5-Year Amer­ican Community Survey.”

All of these under­pop­u­lated districts would have to be redrawn to bring in thou­sands of extra adult citizens, which would signi­fic­antly change the demo­graphic makeup of either these or surround­ing districts. The outcome would poten­tially dilute the polit­ical power of Black communit­ies in the very districts designed to empower them, or it could reduce the number of Black constitu­ents in neigh­bor­ing districts. Either way, the polit­ical power of Black communit­ies would likely be dimin­ished under adult citizen appor­tion­ment.

Import­antly, the senate districts most affected by a shift to adult citizen appor­tion­ment also contain neigh­bor­hoods that have been the target of state-sponsored segreg­a­tion and racist disin­vest­ment. For example, District 9, which would bear the most severe under­pop­u­la­tion, runs directly along the east side of Troost Avenue, a street infam­ous for its func­tion as a de jure border of racial segreg­a­tion in Kansas City during Jim Crow. foot­note11_mtgd070 11 “Under Jim Crow laws, Troost Avenue was used to legally enforce segreg­a­tion prior to the civil rights move­ments of the 1960s. It also was used by Kansas City Public Schools as a divid­ing line to keep schools segreg­ated.” Nick Starling, “Pray on Troost High­lights Need for Justice in KCMO on Juneteenth,” KSHB News, June 19, 2020,­lights-need-for-justice-in-kcmo-on-juneteenth.  Today, Troost Avenue still oper­ates as a “divid­ing line” foot­note12_8h5y3i6 12 Eric Salzman, “For Decades a Divid­ing Line, Troost Avenue in Kansas City, Mo., Sees New Hope,” NBC News, Octo­ber 11, 2018,­ing-line-troost-avenue-kansas-city-mo-sees-new-n918851.  between major­ity-Black and histor­ic­ally disin­ves­ted neigh­bor­hoods to the east and mostly white and wealth­ier neigh­bor­hoods to the west. foot­note13_jm8x6lz 13 Briana O’Hig­gins, “How Troost Became a Major Divide in Kansas City,” KCUR, March 27, 2014,–03–27/how-troost-became-a-major-divide-in-kansas-city.

Like­wise, under­pop­u­lated districts in the St. Louis area map onto geographic racial divides. Districts 13 and 14 cover much of the area north of the “Delmar Divide.” foot­note14_ui6fk9o 14 Oscar Perry Abello, “Break­ing Through and Break­ing Down the Delmar Divide in St. Louis,” Next City, August 19, 2019,­ing-through-and-break­ing-down-the-delmar-divide-in-st.-louis.  The street, synonym­ous with redlining and racially restrict­ive coven­ants, separ­ates predom­in­antly white neigh­bor­hoods to the south from predom­in­antly Black ones to the north. Indeed, Districts 13 and 14 together cover Ferguson and Floris­sant, where in the context of a voting rights lawsuit a federal court recently iden­ti­fied that “once-form­al­ized policies of racial segreg­a­tion” are still “inscribed on the regional land­scape” and a “racial­ized gap in wealth” “persists to the present day.” foot­note15_tt9oxgz 15 See Mo. State Confer­ence of the NAACP v. Ferguson-Floris­sant Sch. Dist., 201 F. Supp. 3d 1006, 1068–69 (E.D. Mo. 2016) (cita­tions and quota­tions omit­ted), aff’d, 894 F.3d 924 (8th Cir. 2018).

That the districts most vulner­able to repres­ent­a­tional loss under adult citizen appor­tion­ment map neatly onto areas still strug­gling against the legacy of racism reveals that such a shift would, at least in effect, perpetu­ate an ugly history of discrim­in­a­tion against communit­ies of color in Missouri.


A shift to adult citizen appor­tion­ment in Missouri would cut nearly a quarter of the state’s popu­la­tion — over­whelm­ingly chil­dren — out of being coun­ted when districts are recon­figured. In a state whose consti­tu­tion has contem­plated all of its inhab­it­ants as count­ing since 1875, such a change would not only be a stark depar­ture from histor­ical norms but also a seri­ous obstacle to communit­ies of color receiv­ing fair repres­ent­a­tion. Missour­i’s Black communit­ies have endured a long and unbroken legacy of discrim­in­a­tion and face dispar­it­ies in income, educa­tion, hous­ing, health, and other key equity indic­at­ors when compared to their white coun­ter­parts. foot­note16_h8ap92c 16 Jacob Barker, “Racial Dispar­it­ies in Income and Poverty Remain Stark, and in Some Cases, Are Getting Worse,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 7, 2019,­it­ies-in-income-and-poverty-remain-stark-and-in-some-cases-are-getting-worse/article_9e604fc3-c47d-581e-95a2–5a2166011a17.html.  Limit­ing repres­ent­a­tion to adult citizens would likely compound and exacer­bate these inequal­it­ies, deep­en­ing exist­ing divi­sions.

This analysis is adap­ted from a forth­com­ing report by the Bren­nan Center for Justice study­ing the impact of adult citizen appor­tion­ment in three states. Yurij Rudensky, Ethan Heren­stein, Annie Lo, and Peter Miller are the authors of that report, and their work is reflec­ted here as well.

End Notes