JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed new U.S. House districts into law Wednesday that are expected to shore up Republican strength in the state’s most competitive congressional district ahead of this year’s elections.
The new voting districts took effect immediately, meaning they will be place for the Aug. 2 primary. But local election authorities will have to scramble to make the behind-the-scenes changes necessary for absentee ballots to be available by next month.
Parson’s signature on the redistricting legislation capped a rocky process that revealed deep schisms between Republican leaders in the state House and Senate and some conservative GOP lawmakers, who had pushed to more aggressively gerrymander districts to the GOP’s favor. That map that ultimately passed is expected to continue Republicans’ decade-long 6-2 advantage over Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation.
“I think a 6-2 map is fair to the people of Missouri,” said Parson, a Republican. “I think a majority of legislators feel that way, and that’s the way democracy works.”
Parson had generally stayed out of the redistricting fray, unlike Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and some other chief executives who took a more active role in the once-a-decade process.
Missouri is one of the final few states to enact a congressional redistricting plan based on the 2020 census. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has yet to sign a redistricting plan, and court challenges have upended maps originally adopted in Florida and New York.
Redistricting could have significant political implications as Republicans attempt to wrest control of the U.S. House from Democrats in the midterm elections. In many states, parties in charge have tried to draw districts that maximize their voting strength while limiting their opponents’ opportunities for victories.
In Missouri, some conservative Republicans had wanted to split Kansas City’s Democratic-leaning voters among multiple districts to give the GOP a shot at winning seven seats. But GOP legislative leaders feared that could backfire both at the ballot box and in court — spreading Republican voters too thin and opening the state to lawsuits alleging violations of constitutional voting rights.
The map that became law is expected to continue the current political representation while boosting Republican support in the 2nd District in suburban St. Louis, held by Republican Rep. Ann Wagner. The plan strengthens the Republican vote share there by 3 percentage points over the former districts, according to an analysis by legislative staff that focused on top-of-the-ticket election results from 2016-2020.
Republican voting strength is expected to be reduced by a similar margin in the nearby 3rd District, which wraps around the St. Louis area and extends westward to central Missouri. But the GOP still holds a sizable advantage there.
Because Missouri took so long to adopt a new congressional map, Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft had warned that some local election officials may not have enough time to accurately adjust everyone’s voting addresses before primary ballots must be ready for military and overseas voters on June 17. As a result, he said it’s possible that some voters could be given the wrong ballots.
Assuming that Parson would sign the redistricting legislation, Ashcroft’s office provided access last Friday to geographical shape files for the new districts so that election officials could get started on their work.
One of the areas having to make adjustments is Boone County, home of the University of Missouri and the state’s fourth largest city of Columbia. Boone County Clerk Brianna Lennon said she already was working Wednesday on reassigning street addresses to the new districts. She expects that task to be completed by a May 24 deadline.
But “we don’t have adequate time to go through and do as much inspection work as we would like to,” Lennon said.