High number of uncontested elections in Missouri

Term limits could be a factor

By Steven Anthony

JEFFERSON CITY — In the last two elections, 74 Missouri House seats and nine Senate seats went uncontested by either Republicans or Democrats.

Those numbers continue a disturbing trend of noncompetitive state legislative elections since 1996.

One factor that could explain the number of uncompetitive elections is the 1994 voter-approved term limits initiative.

“I think (term limits) make a difference in part because you don’t get as many people deciding they’re going to make a career at the state legislative level,” said Marvin Overby said, a political science professor at the University of Missouri.

Overby also said the high number of noncompetitive elections doesn’t surprise him because Americans have other options besides elected office.

“They also have other venues in which they can exercise that ambition, particularly the marketplace,” he said.

Another factor that could explain noncompetitive legislative elections is the way redistricting is done in Missouri. Unlike most states, Missouri uses a specially appointed commission to draw the state’s legislative lines, while the General Assembly draws the congressional lines.

Incoming Speaker of the House John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, was a major figure in the 2011 congressional redistricting effort. He said his experience tells him there is no good solution.

“One thing going through the process you find is that there isn’t any perfect system because there’s people involved,” he said.

Forty-two percent of Missouri candidates ran unopposed in 2012 and 2014, compared with only 28 percent in 2004.

The next round of redistricting will occur in 2021.