ST. LOUIS, Missouri - Public hearings for Missouri's redistricting process begin Saturday in St. Louis and continue next week in Springfield and Kansas City. Watchdog groups advocating for fair maps are urging the state House and Senate bipartisan commissions working on the new maps to take into account what residents want in their voting districts, and to keep what is known as "communities of interest" together.
Sean Nicholson, spokesperson for the Fair Maps Missouri Coalition, said it's important for voting districts to allow for fair competition, and to represent all of the Show-Me State's diverse communities.
"When our neighborhoods, when our communities, get sliced and diced, that deprives us of our ability to have a meaningful impact in who represents us," he said, "and it means that we don't get the policies, the resources that we need."
After this first round of public hearings, there will be a second round in November, and residents can submit public comments or feedback through an online portal.
In Missouri, two citizens commissions - made up of equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, appointed by the governor - are charged with drawing new lines for the General Assembly. If they cannot come to an agreement on maps within six months, the process moves to a panel of six appellate judges.
Nicholson noted there often has been gridlock in the past when partisanship comes into play.
"We have all lived through decades, through cycles, where districts have been drawn in a way that protects politicians instead of lifting up communities," he said, "and so, we've been working with folks across the political spectrum to pave a better way."
He added that the online portal and technology that allows residents to take a close look at these maps is more sophisticated and powerful than ever, so it's an opportunity for more folks to be engaged in the process. Whether you care about health care, education, jobs or other issues, the coalition believes good lines on district maps are key to holding lawmakers accountable.
Source: Missouri News Service