JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Uncertain of her district but committed to running for Congress anyway, Sara Walsh was up before dawn Tuesday to claim a spot near the front of the line as Missouri candidates began filing for office without new maps in place for the U.S. House and state Senate.
In an unusual start to the 2022 election season, Walsh signed up to run as a Republican in the state’s 4th Congressional District — hoping it will continue to include her central Missouri home even though some have proposed to split her county among multiple districts.
“Worst case scenario, I would just move” to remain in the 4th District, said Walsh, a current state House member who’s been campaigning for Congress since last summer without knowing the official district boundaries.
“This is the best way I believe to proceed in the uncertainty — to continue marching forward and pushing onward,” she said.
All states must redraw their U.S. House and state legislative districts to account for population changes noted by the 2020 census. But a delay in census data because of the coronavirus pandemic compressed the timeline to accomplish the task. Political gridlock and legal battles have further complicated things in some states.
Missouri is one of several states where candidates still face uncertainty about their new districts.
North Carolina’s candidate filing period had just begun in December when the state Supreme Court suspended it because of lawsuits challenging U.S. House and state legislative districts passed by the GOP-led Legislature. The court subsequently struck down those districts. The Legislature responded by approving new districts on Feb. 17 — just one week ahead of Thursday’s scheduled resumption of candidate filing. But the situation remains uncertain, because a three-judge trial court has until Wednesday to decide whether the new maps will stand.
In Ohio, the state Supreme Court struck down the latest state legislative districts on Feb. 7 — five days after the candidate filing period ended. Once new districts are drawn, candidates who suddenly find themselves living outside the boundaries will have 30 days to move into the new district, according to the state constitution. Otherwise, they will be ineligible to hold office.
After the Ohio Supreme Court also struck down new U.S. House districts enacted by the GOP-led Legislature, lawmakers voted to extend the filing deadline for congressional candidates to March 4. But no new districts have been enacted yet as that deadline draws near.
Missouri’s U.S. House districts remain a mystery because of gridlock among majority party Republicans in the state Legislature. The state House passed a proposed map last month that’s projected to continue the state’s 6-2 Republican edge among districts. But progress stalled in the state Senate, where a conservative coalition is pushing for a more dramatic redrawing that could give the GOP a shot at winning seven of the eight seats.
Republican Audrey Richards, of the Branson area, filed to run in the 7th Congressional District in the southwestern corner of Missouri.
“According to the map that has been proposed, I am barely — just barely — still on the inside” of the district, Richards said.
Filing to run seemed a better option than waiting for certainty about the district boundaries, she said.
“I don’t want people to look at me and feel like I’m not committed. So it’s important to day one, hour one, sign up,” she said.
Missouri’s state Senate districts also are uncertain because a bipartisan citizens’ commission failed to agree on a plan. That kicked the task to the courts. But a judicial panel had to postpone a public hearing last week because of snow and has yet to propose a tentative map.
That didn’t stop state House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann from filing to run in the state’s 2nd Senate District. He’s hoping it will continue to include St. Charles County, where he lives.
“I don’t appreciate not having an idea as to what district I’m going to be running in,” Wiemann said. But, he added, “I don’t want to wait.”
Candidates who file on the first day in Missouri get to draw numbers for a shot at being listed first on the ballot — a perceived advantage. Those who file later are listed in the order they sign up.
Missouri’s candidate filing runs until March 29, meaning new maps could be adopted before the close of the filing period. If that happens, candidates could withdraw and re-file in their new districts. State Senate candidates must at least live in part of the old district from which a new one is drawn. U.S. House candidates don’t have to live in a district to represent it, though it’s politically advantageous to do so.