Supreme Court Cases Cause Election Uncertainties

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COLUMBIA - In the latest twist in what's been a long redistricting process, some candidates running for state office now aren't sure where their candidacy lies.

Two cases now being heard by the Missouri Supreme Court could have statewide implications for dozens of candidates vying for state office. The two cases concern the residency qualifications of two St. Louis area lawmakers running for re-election.

Every ten years, the state must redraw the districts for the Senate and House.  The law requires that candidates must live in their district for a year before they are elected, but this year the districts have not been in place for one year due to the redistricting process. The constitution grants an exemption in this case. 

Senate candidates must be a resident of one of the districts that become part of the new district. House candidates must be from the same county or district as the new district. If the candidates win the election, they must establish residency in the new district within one year.

Last week, the Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that two lawmakers trying to do that should not be able to run. The court didn't take action, though, because the Missouri Supreme Court took over the cases.

These cases don't just have implications in St. Louis, as two races in Mid-Missouri could be affected by the high court's decision.

Former Missouri State Senator Dennis Smith is running for the Republican nomination in the 44th district, but he lives about a quarter of a mile outside the district boundaries.  Smith, who previously served in the Missouri Legislature as both a Senator and Representative from 1979 to 1991, was involved in two redistricting years, but he says he's never seen one this strange.

"We never really had the controversy associated with this particular issue. There's always been the provision in the constitution adopted by the state in 1945," said Smith.

Current Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, has been following the case closely. The eight-term representative says the redistricting process has been more complex this year.

"Just wait and see the result, there's an awful lot of inside baseball here.  It's hard to follow, but in my race I don't think it's going to have a very great effect," said Kelly.

Both Kelly and Smith say they think it's unlikely the Supreme Court will rule against the constitutional provision.

"I think it would be very difficult for the court to overturn what has been the precedent in the operation of constitutional law for over half a century," said Smith.

The court is expediting the process and is expected to have a verdict within a week because ballots are required to be printed next Tuesday.