Our Opinion: Of 'lizards' and 'lobsters'

“Dead lizards” and “lobster claws” had their day — actually, several days — in court this week.

Those are among the illustrative terms describing some proposed congressional districts being challenged in Cole County Circuit Court.

In the aftermath of the U.S. Census, conducted every decade, Missouri’s congressional, state House and state Senate districts must be reconfigured. For each, specified standards must be met by a specified group through a specified process.

Despite all the specificity, legal challenges are common.

Consequently, with only 3 1/2 weeks remaining before candidates begin filing for the the August primary and November general elections, the courts have been busy.

In addition to the case regarding congressional districts, written arguments challenging the 163 state House districts were requested Friday in another division of the court.

And, in two weeks, a newly appointed citizens commission — as ordered by the state Supreme Court — is scheduled to make another effort to map the 34 state Senate districts.

Common requirements for new districts are that they be compact, contiguous and roughly equal in population. An added guideline for Senate districts is to respect county lines except when crossing them is necessary to equalize population.

In the challenge to House districts, the judge has been asked to decide if contiguous and compact allows crossing natural boundaries, including the Missouri River, where no bridge exists.

Beyond the legal quarrels about how contiguous and compact are defined is the undercurrent of politics.

Political parties, incumbent office-holders and potential candidates all have an interest in districts favorable to their advancement.

Is the existing system — which involves commissions appointed by the executive branch, the Legislature, the judiciary or some combination of the above — the best model?

Can a better — meaning less partisan or more bipartisan — process be developed?

Or, can the human element be removed altogether? In this time of technology, can we program parameters into a computer and have it draw districts entirely devoid of politics?

We hope those questions can be explored and debated — before we find ourselves awaiting court rulings to determine who can represent who where.

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