Resolute Square

Sneak Attack on Direct Democracy

Published:February 1, 2024
David Pepper highlights a troubling proposal in Missouri that undermines majority rule through gerrymandering-influenced thresholds for a Constitutional Amendment. Protecting democracy requires united efforts.

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By David Pepper

Last week, I talked to activists in Missouri about their effort to protect reproductive freedom there—and about the cynical and anti-democratic backlash from their gerrymandered legislature.

Sadly, it’s exactly what I’ve come to expect from these broken statehouses: 1) they are always seeking ways to subvert democracy because they know their policies (like abortion bans) and viewpoints are largely unpopular, and 2) they are always learning lessons from anti-democracy efforts around the country—be they successes or failures.

And in this case, Missouri legislators are proposing to subvert majority rule in a way that adapts to the lesson from Ohio last year — that voters value the principle of “one person, one vote” and will reject efforts to undermine it. (For my Voting Rights Academy on how the Warren Court enshrined the principle of “One Person, One Vote,” go HERE).

So the Missouri politicians are trying to sneak this through by modifying what the GOP tried in Ohio (a straight-up 60% threshold for anything to pass): requiring instead that a Constitutional Amendment earn not just a majority vote of the people across Missouri, but that it also earn a majority vote of the the state’s Congressional districts.

On the surface, it’s sounds like majority rule, right?


As I explain above, in a state with gerrymandered districts—whether it’s a Congressional district requirement or statehouse district requirement—this additional threshold becomes a poison pill to majority rule. A popular measure could still lose because the extreme gerrymander of those districts defeats it, as opposed to the vote of the people themselves.

And directly counter to the principle of “one person, one vote,” the voters who are overrepresented in those gerrymandered red districts would be given significantly more weight than the voters in underrepresented, packed districts. A viewpoint shared by a minority of the voters could easily overcome that shared by the majority.

Folks from across the nation helped Ohio topple an attack like this last August.

If they try this in Missouri, let’s commit to fight back in the same way there. Both to protect democracy in Missouri, AND so they don’t try this sneak attack anywhere else (because you know they will if it succeeds!).

I’ll keep you posted.