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Missouri is working to redraw its maps for state House and Senate districts, based on the latest U.S. Census count. Two 20-member commissions, one for the House and another for the Senate, are deliberating over the once-a-decade process in hopes of coming to an agreement. If they fail, the issue will be sent to state judges.
Among the factors commission members will consider are “communities of interest” — geographic areas with residents who share specific political, cultural or economic interests.
“Communities of interest are a way to help people engage with the idea that redistricting is happening this year, and that it’s very powerful,” said Mary Lindsay, a member of the League of Women Voters of Missouri’s Fair Redistricting Committee. “And redistricting is very powerful, as it lasts for a decade.”
What counts as a community of interest?
The definition of a community of interest is flexible, but according to Missouri’s online redistricting hub, it can generally be understood as “a group of individuals who have similar legislative concerns and could benefit from representation through a single individual in a given legislative body.” The group must share a common geographic area, but it doesn’t have to be bound by city or county lines.
“A community of interest is intended and envisioned to provide a degree of geographic tethering,” said Greg Vonnahme, an associate professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “It wouldn’t necessarily make a lot of sense to have a little bit of a district in downtown Kansas City, a little bit in the extreme southern part of the state, a little bit in St. Louis. There’d be no real common interest.”
Lindsay said minority language groups, people who rely on the same transportation system, those who identify with a local school district or those in an area with a vested interest in small businesses could all fall under the definition of a community of interest.
How can I establish a community of interest during Missouri redistricting?
In Missouri, making a community of interest is as simple as mapping one out on the state’s redistricting hub. The website asks people submitting a community of interest to provide the following:
- Community name
- Description of community
- Important places
- What makes the places important
- What unites the community
- Why the community should remain whole
Then, people can draw the boundaries of their community of interest online. In addition to showing county and city boundaries, the website also labels school districts and highways.
Once a map has been drawn, the website will generate a contact form to be submitted alongside the map, including the full name, phone number and email address of the person or organization establishing the community of interest. It’s important that any submissions include a clear description of the community.
People can also attend redistricting hearings and contact commissioners about creating a community of interest map.
So far, about 700 communities of interest maps have been drawn, according to Lindsay, and many have been submitted to the redistricting commissions.
However, there’s no guarantee that every community of interest map will be used by the commissions.
Will establishing a community of interest ensure my district won’t be changed during Missouri redistricting?
Making a community of interest does not guarantee your community will remain within a single district. Redistricting officials must first consider several legal requirements, including equal apportionment of districts.
“The biggest district must be no more than 10% larger than the smallest district,” in terms of population, Vonnahme said. “There’s an infinite number of ways you can accomplish that goal.”
Because of that, he said, there’s no clear way to determine how much weight a community of interest will be given in the redistricting process. Communities of interest are not enshrined as redistricting standards in the state constitution, unlike other considerations, such as district compactness.
“I wouldn’t be disappointed if it doesn’t go your way,” Vonnahme said. “Keep your expectations in check.”
Lindsay said the potential impact of communities of interest maps would be stronger in the state House than in the Senate, because the 163 House districts are smaller.
“Communities of interest maps are small enough that they are less likely to have an effect on the larger state Senate seats,” she said.
Will communities of interest get thrown out if Missouri redistricting goes to the judges?
The commissions have until Jan. 23, 2022, to file a map with the Missouri secretary of state’s office. If either commission fails to submit a plan, the Missouri Supreme Court will appoint a commission of six appellate court judges.
The communities of interest maps would be passed on to the appointed judges, Lindsay said.
It’s still unclear how much weight they would be given in the redistricting decision-making process.