The fairness of any idea to reform partisan voting maps comes down to how the maps themselves end up being drawn. A lot of federal rules and longstanding traditions go into any effort to draw Congressional maps, including the plan from Voters Not Politicians (VNP). The key difference: We want to take the manipulation done by politicians out of the process. VNP’s proposal returns the power over drawing voting maps to the voters, where it belongs.
What would maps look like if the voters approve VNP’s initiative at the ballot box in 2018? How will federal Congressional and state Senate and House maps look? Let’s get into the details.
Getting the Maps Drawn
There are a lot of things to consider when drawing voting maps. The 13 members of the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission would be required to draw maps that comply with these rules (in order of priority):
1. Districts must have equal population as required by the U.S. Constitution.
2. Districts must comply with the Voting Rights Act.
3. Districts must be contiguous. Each district will be a single, unbroken shape.
4. Maps must reflect Michigan’s diverse population and communities of interest (COI). Prioritizing COIs allows the Commission to keep together people who share a strong cultural or historical heritage or economic, social or other interests, even if their community crosses county, city or township lines. VNP’s proposal specifically states, however, that voters’ relationships with one political party or another, or to an incumbent politician or political candidate may not form the basis for a community of interest. These provisions are necessary to prevent communities from being intentionally split apart (cracked) or packed with groups of divergent interests for no other reason than for partisan gain. Members of the public would be able to give input as to what they consider to be their communities of interest.
5. Maps must not give a disproportionate advantage to any political party. This determination will be based on an accepted measure of partisan fairness, such as the efficiency gap or a mean-median difference analysis.
6. Maps must not favor or disfavor any incumbent politician or political candidate.
7. Maps must take into account existing city, township and county boundaries.
8. Districts must be reasonably compact. This is to prevent gerrymandered districts like Michigan has now, where there is a wide spread from a central point or odd indentations that do not make sense except to move voters from one district to a neighboring district for partisan gain.
The rules the commission must follow are in a specific order for a reason. Drawing voting maps is complex. Often, one rule might clash with one another. That’s where the order comes in. If two rules are at odds during the map drawing process, a higher-priority rule takes precedence. For instance, it’s OK for a city to be divided into two districts if it helps those districts be contiguous. It’s not OK to divide a city for the sake of those districts being compact. Likewise, a community of interest could be divided between districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, but not for the sake of following a county boundary.
The commission will consider all of these rules in drawing maps for Michigan’s U.S. House seats, and for our seats in the state House and Senate. Each of the 13 members of the commission —- four Republicans, four Democrats, and five non-affiliated voters —- can propose maps for each type of district. That is, each member can propose maps for the U.S. House, and for the state House and state Senate.
Then, the proposed maps go up for approval.
Approving the Maps
After all the maps are drawn, the Commission has to sort through and settle on three of the potential 39 voting maps (one for state senate districts, one for state house districts, and one for federal Congressional districts). Voting maps get approved by a simple majority of commission members, and the group needs a nine member quorum to take action. The group votes and if a majority of members present favors one of the U.S. House maps drawn by one of the members, that set of districts gets approved. Likewise, the group votes on maps for Michigan’s state House and Senate.
An extra layer of protection guards against partisan tinkering when the commission votes on maps. While it only takes a simple majority to approve a voting map, that majority must represent the political spectrum. That majority must include at least two Republicans, two Democrats, and two non-affiliated members. This prevents, for example, Democratic members from aligning with like-minded non-affiliated members to gang up on the Republicans and ram through maps that favor Democrats.
What happens if a majority of the group can’t agree on one voting map? What happens if there aren’t enough Democrats, Republicans or nonaffiliated voters in a majority? Then, the process shifts to a system called modified Borda voting. That method can be a lot to explain, but we’ll summarize here. Each commission member ranks the maps he or she favors. Those ranks would be assigned points (with first-ranked maps getting the most points). Points for all ranked voting maps would get tallied, and the one with the most points would be approved.
Redistricting Done Right
It sounds like a lot, and it is in a sense. But it boils down to a group of ordinary citizens like you doing their part to make redistricting in Michigan fair. The group gets together, draws the voting maps with public input, and votes on them. The process guarantees the new maps are free from partisan manipulation. In short, it takes the power for drawing voting maps out of the hands of politicians and puts it in the hands of voters —- where it belongs.
If you agree, it’s time to get involved and take action. Here’s how:
Sign the petition // Voters Not Politicians is in the process of collecting 315,654 valid signatures to get our policy on the November 2018 ballot. Click here to find an upcoming opportunity to sign the petition!
Donate // the politicians and special interests who benefit from the current system will spend millions defending and protecting their unfair advantage. We have to fight back, and that will include advertising and putting together hundreds of local events across Michigan to educate voters on their rights. Donate to Voters Not Politicians here.
Volunteer // help us spread the word and gather petition signatures! We are recruiting a field team of petition circulators that will help us spread the word and collect signatures this summer. If you are interested in being a part of this vital part of the process, please click here.
Stay educated // learn more about gerrymandering and how you can defeat it! Stay up to date on campaign updates and news by signing up for our newsletter here.