Correction: Rep. Wagner won her seat by almost 29,000 votes, not the 115 previously stated in this article. Additionally, Congressional redistricting is handled by the legislature like any other bill. State districts are handled by commissions appointed by the governor.
Missouri didn’t gain or lose a congressional seat during reapportionment of U.S. House of Representative spots earlier this year, but the battle over redistricting their boundaries within the state has been brewing for two election cycles.
The districts would’ve been drawn by a non-partisan demographer after a 2018 ballot initiative, but a 2020 measure reinstated a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor. That commission handles state districts.
However, the Missouri legislature will get the ultimate say on the districts after the commission’s recommendation. Both chambers are overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans.
“Some states have nonpartisan commissions that do draw these districts to try to create competitive districts, as opposed to legislative redrawing of the districts, which leads to gerrymandered districts where the parties try to gain political advantage,” Ed Taylor, an associate professor of political science at Missouri Western State University, said.
Because the legislature has the final say, Taylor said partisans in the body will do their best to create districts favorable to their party.
In this case, Republicans may try and split up Missouri’s Fifth Congressional District, a seat Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver holds.
The legislature also may try and shore up support for Republican Rep. Ann Wagner, who narrowly won the race for Missouri’s Second Congressional District.
Taylor told News-Press NOW that legislators gerrymander the districts in two main ways: By packing all supporters of one political party into a single district or by splitting up areas that hold overwhelming support for one party into multiple districts.
For example, major urban areas like Kansas City and St. Louis could be split, giving Republicans a chance to pick up a seat that traditionally stays with Democrats.
Currently, Missouri has six Republicans and two Democrats in Congress.
According to a report from Dave Wasserman, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, Missouri Republicans likely will keep the current districts mostly intact.
In that report, which cites sources within the Missouri GOP, the map would expand Wagner’s district in such a way that those in the new district would’ve voted overwhelmingly for former President Donald Trump.
Wagner won her race by almost 29,000 votes, or six percentage points.
An alternative strategy could be to split Cleaver’s district, theoretically giving Republicans seven seats in the U.S. House instead of six.
In that proposed map, the Fifth District is expanded to cover far outside the Kansas City limits.
“My professional thoughts are citizens should be pushing elected representatives to make competitive districts, meaning districts that either party could win any time,” Taylor said.
Redistricting won’t begin in earnest until this fall as the latest U.S. Census Bureau population numbers were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In each of Wasserman’s reports, the Sixth Congressional District, which covers St. Joseph and all of northern Missouri and currently is represented by Sam Graves, remains unchanged.