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GOP redistricting expert says Mo. map is compact

Chris Blank

A Republican expert on redistricting defended Missouri's redrawn U.S. House map, saying in court Wednesday the districts are more compact than those developed in other states.

Thomas Hofeller was the lone defense witness in legal challenges to Missouri's congressional districts. Two lawsuits now before a Cole County judge contend the new congressional districts are not sufficiently compact. The state Supreme Court in January ordered further legal review in the case.

The Missouri Constitution requires congressional districts be "composed of contiguous territory as compact and as nearly equal in population as may be."

Hofeller said in court Wednesday that Missouri's districts are compact and meet that requirement better than districts developed in several other states. He said if Missouri's new congressional map is not considered to be compact by the courts, then districts across the country would be unlikely to meet such a standard.

"There would be a tremendous number of congressional, legislative maps, local maps that would be redrawn across the country _ probably throughout the whole decade," he said.

Congressional districts are redrawn each decade based on the most recent census, and Missouri is dropping from nine congressional districts to eight because its population growth since 2000 did not keep pace with the other states. The Republican-controlled Legislature enacted a congressional redistricting map last year after overriding the veto of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

Opponents of the new congressional districts have proposed alternative maps that they contend would meet Missouri's compactness requirement.

One lawsuit focuses largely on the Kansas City-area 5th District that covers much of Jackson County, along with several neighboring rural counties. A chunk of Jackson County was carved out and added to the 6th District that stretches across Missouri from Nebraska to Illinois.

Another lawsuit, funded by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, objects to several districts. It raises a similar argument about the 5th and 6th districts and contends the 3rd District also is not compact. That district runs from central Missouri to the St. Louis-area while reaching north and south of St. Louis city to touch the Mississippi River. It also challenges the west-central 4th District and the 7th District in southwestern Missouri.

A political science professor from the University of Missouri-St. Louis testified Tuesday that an alternative redistricting map is more compact than the one passed by the Legislature based upon a visual examination and several statistical measures.

Hofeller said compactness is measured along a continuum and that there is no bright-line test to determine what is and is not a compact district. He said a district that is not compact would have significant "indentations and protrusions" and that all the proposed Missouri redistricting maps presented to the court are compact, though none is as compact as possible.

The chairmen of state House and Senate redistricting committees have joined the case as defendants and are represented by a private attorney, who called Hofeller to testify Wednesday. Missouri Solicitor General James Layton, who is defending the state, did not call witnesses during two days of testimony but questioned those who were called by others.

Attorneys in the case were scheduled to give their final arguments Thursday. The state high court has set a Friday deadline for a decision.

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Online:

Missouri congressional districts: http://bit.ly/x88ZLC

The Associated Press