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Document: Amendment 3 ballot language lawsuit

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Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce said she will work to make a decision as soon as possible in a lawsuit filed by proponents of a Missouri constitutional amendment passed in 2018 who believe a new proposed amendment would do away with what Missouri voters approved.

Almost 2.4 million Missourians approved Amendment 1, known as Clean Missouri, in November 2018. Its focus was to bring about a redistricting plan that included a non-partisan state demographer responsible for drawing new political district lines.

In May, however, state lawmakers passed SJR 38, which — upon voters' approval — would get rid of the state demographer and give redistricting responsibility to House and Senate commissions.

Eight people who collected signatures in support of Clean Missouri or who otherwise volunteered to help pass it are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Missouri secretary of state and leaders in the Legislature.

In Joyce's courtroom Friday, the plaintiffs' attorney, Chuck Hatfield, said their issues are over the ballot summary language in SJR38 and its descriptions about the redistricting commissions, changes in lobbyist gifts and campaign contribution limits, and the assertion the new law would protect the interests of minority communities.

According to the Secretary of State's Office website, Missourians on Nov. 3 will vote on Amendment 3, which asks voters whether the Missouri Constitution should be amended to include three things:

  • "Ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators and their employees." Hatfield said this would apply only to paid lobbyists. It would not affect unpaid lobbyists, and Hatfield said there is no definition as to what an unpaid lobbyist is in state law.
  • "Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits." Hatfield said this applies only to the state Senate, not the state House of Representatives. He said that is not distinguished in the ballot language.
  • "Create citizen-led independent bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative districts based on one person, one vote, minority voter protection, compactness, competitiveness, fairness, and other criteria." Hatfield said the measure would decrease fairness by doing away with the non-partisan state demographer, something the ballot language never mentions.

Missouri Assistant Attorney General Jeremiah Morgan, arguing for the secretary of state and the legislative leaders, told Joyce ballot language does not have to describe changes in law.

"There are 47 words in this ballot summary, and by state law, the Legislature, since they are the ones proposing this change, are allowed 50 words," Morgan said. "If it were the secretary of state making the proposal, there could be 100 words. This is a very complex issue, and is this language efficient to give notice to the voters? It absolutely is."

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Morgan argued the purpose of a ballot initiative summary is to give notice to the voters "sufficient so that they can, if they want to, further investigate."

"The provision is available at the ballot place if voters want to find out more details about what the provision says," Morgan added.

Morgan asked that Joyce uphold the language as is. Hatfield asked that Joyce send it back to the Legislature to rewrite.

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