Huge Gerrymandering Fail Leaves College Student As Sole Voter In Missouri District

Businesses in Columbia, Missouri attempted to use their political pull to throw taxes at consumers instead of themselves, but a massive failure in their gerrymandering effort left them with one major roadblock: a 23-year-old college student who, on February 28, became the only registered voter in the district.

Representatives of the Business Loop 70 Community Improvement District attempted to remove every single eligible voter as part of an effort to ensure that local businesses had complete control over legislation — including a sales tax increase that would enable them to effectively force citizens to pay the businesses’ bills. The Columbia City Council voted in 5-2 in April to establish the district, which resembles a dinosaur drawn by a kindergartener (pictured below).

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Columbia, Missouri’s community Improvement District, via Columbia Daily Tribune

The Columbia Daily Tribune notes that, with pesky voters out of the way, the local businesses could effectively set their own laws:

“The Columbia City Council established the district on a 5-2 vote in April in response to a petition from a group of property owners in the CID boundaries. The “qualified voters” in a CID are capable of levying various taxes or assessments within the boundaries of the district to fund improvement projects. Under state law, decisions to impose sales taxes in a CID are to be made by registered voters living in the district boundaries. If no such registered voters are present, property owners vote.”

The district was drawn so that homes surrounding the university-owned property where Jen Henderson lives were intentionally excluded as the hand-crafted bit of corruption was drawn, but they accidentally left the 20-something as the sole eligible voter — an issue for those who hoped to establish control.

Shortly after the vote, victory in their grasp, CID property owners levied a property assessment within the newly-drawn district  — one that is expected to bring in about $50,000 annually at a rate of about a half-cent per $100 of the assessed value of properties in the district. However, to pay for recent improvement projects, the city would need to raise property taxes on businesses in the district — That is, unless something else could be worked out, like a half-cent sales tax imposed on the populace.

Under Missouri law, any such action would need to be approved by residents of the district. If there are no eligible voters, the property owners –in this case the business owners — would vote. And it almost worked too, except for that one pesky student the CID’s architects left in the district. Naturally, Henderson is not pleased with this perversion of the democratic process.

Henderson, who is considering voting against the tax increase, says the entire process has been “pretty manipulative.” She says the CID’s director Carrie Gartner approached her and pleaded that she unregister her vote. Not only does Henderson feel that the sales tax increase will hurt low-income people who shop in the area, but she adds that the director — that’d be the person who attempted to convince her to renounce her right to vote in her district —  will be making quite a bit of money off “this whole deal.”

Gartner argues that the CID will not be financially viable without the expected $220,000 the sales tax would fleece from the populace:

“Gartner said the CID has incurred “significant debt” the district hoped to pay down through the tax, including more than $100,000 it owes the city and for legal representation, $55,000 owed to Jack Miller of True Media and a $60,000 line of credit with Landmark Bank.

Gartner said Monday that, at the suggestion of Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren, the CID’s board of directors tried to keep the identity of the sole voter private because of ‘concerns with her privacy during this sensitive situation.’

Noren said she told the CID about Henderson’s registration in May.”

The director says she is shocked — SHOCKED — that attempts by herself and Noren to get Henderson to “unregister” was viewed in a negative light, and maintains that she did nothing illegal when she attempted to sway the sole voter, who researched Gartner’s claims and found them not to be “as good as they were saying to me at first.”

“The district plan and the district border is manipulative, too,” Henderson says. She has not quite decided which way to vote, but is 100 percent certain that no one will talk her into giving up her right to do so. In the eyes of the college student, there are a number of issues:

“Henderson said her concerns include vague project outlines, Gartner’s pay, Business Loop improvements she said will help businesses but not nearby residents and how an additional sales tax would affect low-income people purchasing groceries and other necessities.”

“Taxing their food is kind of sad, especially when [Gartner] is going to be making like $70,000 a year off of this whole deal,” Henderson said. “These people make a quarter of that. They can barely afford to go buy food, and you’re taxing their food.”

If Henderson votes “no” on the proposed sales tax, Gartner says that the property assessment will have to be the source used to pay off the district’s debts. “Obviously, it would not be the same organization and could not function in the way we envisioned,” she said.

Gerrymandering is evil, but it is downright hilarious to watch it blow up in the faces of entrenched business interests. Perhaps the corrupt local government and businesses can learn something from this: If you’re going to try to rig an election, make sure you don’t fail spectacularly when carefully carving out district lines to fit your interests. Otherwise, you fail spectacularly and reveal your not-so-hidden agenda to the world.

For more on gerrymandering, watch the following informative video:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mky11UJb9AY&w=640&h=360]

Featured image via Columbia Daily Tribune