We have a system of representative government, meaning that our state is divided into districts, and voters in each vote to send representatives to our state House and Senate, and to the U.S. House of Representatives. Those districts, in Michigan, are drawn by people we elect. Seems like a good system, right? We elect men and women, who take our interests to heart when they redraw the district voting maps every 10 years.
But that’s not necessarily happening. Things are out of whack because the men and women we elect have put party first when drawing voting maps, and that’s not good for anyone. In a fair system, districts are drawn in a transparent and impartial way for the purpose of democratic representation, not for the benefit of one party or another.
We see elections manipulated like this all over the U.S. In Maryland, Democrats draw voting maps that help Democrats stay in office. In North Carolina, the GOP draws the maps to their party’s advantage.
It’s called a gerrymander. Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Like some obscure poisonous amphibian from an equally obscure tropical island. While gerrymanders aren’t obscure and aren’t a type of newt, they are poisonous to our democracy. A gerrymander is, simply, a partisan voting map that benefits one party or another. Rigged districts have the effect of encouraging poisonous partisanship and gridlock. And it makes voters feel powerless.
Why should I care about redistricting reform?
1. Imbalanced Representation
In the November 2014 statewide election, voters in Michigan split their votes about evenly between Republicans and Democrats. But because Republicans had gerrymandered the district maps, they were able to turn their half of the votes into 70 percent of the elected positions in the Michigan Senate, and nearly 60 percent of the seats in the Michigan House. This is what happens when voting maps are drawn by politicians more concerned about winning the next election than the will of the voters they represent. There is an imbalance between the overall preferences of Michigan’s voters and their representation in government.
2. No Voting Power; Less Responsiveness
Without gerrymandering, many communities may be evenly balanced between Republicans and Democrats - just as the state of Michigan is as a whole. In these districts, candidates of either party have a roughly even chance of winning, and the winning candidate will likely need to court voters of both parties. Gerrymandering allows politicians to split communities apart and create safe districts that are no longer competitive. Let’s say you’re a Democrat living in a Republican-leaning district. After the 2010 Census, a lot of liberals —- maybe voters like yourself —- were stripped from your district and slapped into a neighboring district. Your district goes from a GOP majority of 51 percent, to a majority of 58 percent. That makes the chance of that district ever electing a Democrat slim, even though a substantial portion of voters there are Democrats. Your vote now will likely not have any impact on the outcome of any election in your district. If you want a liberal voice to represent you in Lansing, your best chance is to move to a safe Democratic district. This happens in reverse, too. Gerrymandering has created several reliably blue districts in Michigan. It’s pretty unlikely any of those districts will elect a Republican, even though those districts likely include many conservative voters.
Furthermore, when gerrymandering creates “safe” districts, it hurts voters of both parties. By design, the voters of the minority party are doomed to not have their voices heard (as discussed above). But the voters in the majority party are also likely to be ignored because their representative knows that he or she can count on them to vote by party, no matter what the representative does.
3. More Polarization and Gridlock
Partisan voting maps can further polarize leadership in both Lansing and Washington. General elections have a moderating influence on candidates when they need to appeal to voters across the ideological spectrum. But gerrymandering allows one party’s candidate to effectively win an election in the primary. That candidate will more likely be more partisan, because the candidate knows he or she can rely on party-line votes and does not need to appeal to a diverse group of voters to win the general election.
A healthy, transparent and non-partisan redistricting process can help give Michigan voters more competitive districts. It can end the manipulation that silences minority voices of both parties in any given district. It makes our elected leaders more accountable. It cuts the gridlock that happens when elected leaders are confident they’ll get re-elected no matter what they do.
Partisan election manipulation, gerrymandering, is real. It happens on both sides of the aisle. It’s not fair to voters. But we voters can take action to stop it. We can take back the power to redraw our voting maps in a fair, impartial and transparent way.
Join us in our efforts to make voting maps fair, transparent and impartial. Here’s how:
Get 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. Let us know if you want to receive campaign updates, educational or informative news, information about upcoming events, or all three!
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.
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.