The Missouri Supreme Court is pondering three lawsuits that challenge the redistricting maps for Missouri’s congressional districts as well as the state senate districts. Time for decision is short. Filing starts in six weeks.
Sometimes a person can kind of tell which way the court is leaning by the questions judges ask. Sometimes. Sometimes, though, the intellectual explorations of nuances of interpretations of the law take judges down a path that can confuse or deceive observers. It’s not intentional. It’s natural curiosity.
We talked to some of the reporters who covered the hearings last week, including our own Jessica Machetta, and they’ve indicated they couldn’t tell where the court might be going on these three cases, each of which has its own complications and all of which have a constitutional framework around them.
Can the court turn these lemons into lemonade? Should it?
How entertaining it would be if the judges decided these maps are such a mess that both of them have to be redrawn and because they can’t be redrawn before filing begins on February 28, candidates have to run at large. This year would be an election year for the memories.
Now, mind you, one of the arguments is that if the new maps are thrown out, the old maps remain in place until new lines are drawn. So maybe we’d have state senate races in current districts this year and new ones in 2014. But if the congressional map is thrown out, there’s a problem because we won’t have nine congressional districts to fall back on for this year’s election. We have only eight districts.
All of this comes to mind because we’ve been through one of the possible results of all of this. I was still a legal Illinois resident (living in Missouri) for the first election to come along after I was old enough to vote . The governor had vetoed the remap of Illinois House districts. A redistricting commission deadlocked on a map. The state supreme court refused to draw new districts.
My absentee ballot contained a page almost three feet long containing 236 candidates for the 177 seats in the Illinois House of Representatives. The Republicans and the Democrats each had nominated 118 candidates. “Vote for 177 candidates,” I was told (I think). I wish I had decided not to vote in that election. I’d love to still have that ballot. Framed. On the wall of our studio at the Capitol.
Can you imagine going into the voting booth this year with a ballot that tells you to vote for 17 candidates for the Missouri Senate? Any 17? Or to vote for any eight candidates for the United States House? Any 8?
Many Illinois voters, overwhelmed by the bedsheet ballot all those years ago, just voted a straight party ticket. We don’t have that option in Missouri. The legislature took it away from us a few years ago.
We have been through the at-large election of our congressional delegation in Missouri. Our friend King Marc Powers of the Kingdom of Capitol Arcania recalled for us in a blog we wrote last year during the congressional redistricting gymnastics the legislature was going through that we had a congressional at-large election in 1932, a year when we lost three congressional seats to reduce our representation to 13. Governor Caulfield, a Republican, vetoed the new map proposed by the Democrat-controlled legislature in 1931.
If you want to find a Missourian who voted on the last bedsheet ballot, as they are called, in Missouri, check a nursing home. A person who became eligible to vote in 1932 would be about 100 years old now.
But oh, my goodness, the stories us reporters would have if the court decides the only solution to at least one of these issues is an at-large election. Think of some of the stars of those stories. County clerks and local election boards. Political parties (and can you imagine how many candidates the various parties and splinter groups and wing nut organizations on both sides of the conservative-liberal axis would field?). Candidates themselves. Special interest groups with their PACS and Super PACS thinking they could just buy the Senate or Missouri’s congressional delegation.
We haven’t discussed this possibility with the people who sell commercials on the Missourinet because we’re afraid it would set off uncontrollable drooling.
Imagine the lines at polling places. Imagine punch cards three feet long.
Everybody else’s nightmare could be a reporter’s dream.
We suspect that kind of scenario is about the last thing the Missouri Supreme Court wants to have happen. The state lottery’s “Pick 3” game would be nothing compared to the political lottery games of “Pick 8” or “Pick 17.”