Senate map opponents dismiss federal lawsuit

Opponents of redrawn Missouri Senate districts dropped their federal lawsuit Tuesday, bringing some clarity to an otherwise chaotic redistricting process.

The plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the federal lawsuit the day after a bipartisan redistricting commission unanimously approved its final Senate map while making some adjustments from an earlier proposal to smooth population differences among the 34 districts. The secretary of state’s office said the completed map was filed Tuesday afternoon.

Many state Senate candidates already have filed for this year’s elections even before knowing exactly what would happen to their districts, but the final maps provide some certainty two weeks before the candidate filing deadline.

The federal lawsuit had claimed a map proposed by the redistricting commission violated federal equal protection rights and favored urban voters at the expense of rural residents. It was filed earlier this month by a pair of law firms whose attorneys include Republican former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, Republican former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway.

Attorney Eddie Greim, who represented opponents to the Senate map, declined to comment Tuesday on the reason the lawsuit was dismissed.

Some of the strongest objections over the new map have come from St. Louis County Republicans. Democrats will have an advantage in the 1st District in St. Louis County, which currently is held by Republican Sen. Jim Lembke. The map also creates a new east-central Senate district and consolidates Republican Sens. Jane Cunningham and Brian Nieves into the 26th District covering Franklin County and part of St. Louis County.

The new seat will be District 10, and a little-changed seat in Jackson County becomes District 7. Numbering is important for Senate districts because odd numbered districts — such as the 7th District — appear on the ballot this year while even numbered districts, such as the 10th District, next will stand for election in 2014. The changes could give Democrats and Kansas City an extra senator for two years.

The redistricting commission said the final Senate map has a population difference of about 8.5 percent between the most heavily populated and sparsely populated districts. The difference was about 9.6 percent in the earlier proposal. Commission Chairman Doug Harpool said officials focused on developing a legal map.

Developing new Senate boundaries based upon the 2010 census has required two attempts. A different bipartisan redistricting commission deadlocked and failed to agree on a map last year, so a special panel of appellate judges handled the task. The Missouri Supreme Court in January rejected that map, which required the process to start from scratch.

The second redistricting commission developed a tentative proposal in February after meeting for more than 13 hours and late into the night. The panel held a half-day meeting Monday to give the map final approval.

Although the picture now is clearer for Senate districts, there is plenty uncertainty over other Missouri redistricting efforts. The state Supreme Court still is considering legal challenges over new congressional and state House districts.

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