For immediate release
Monday, July 17, 2017
Contact: Katie Fahey - (616) 227-0576
Ballot Proposal Will End “Rigged Districts”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This version corrects the launch date of signature collection. We do not have a firm date for launch, as we are awaiting approval from the Board of Canvassers.
East Lansing, MI - A plan to end rigging of legislative and congressional districts for partisan advantage was released today by the grassroots group Voters Not Politicians. The constitutional amendment would go before voters on the November 2018 ballot.
The proposal will amend the Michigan State Constitution to:
End the secret, backroom process in which politicians draw congressional and state legislative district boundaries; and,
Put that task instead in the hands of an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
The amendment will end what is commonly called “gerrymandering,” in which the political party in power redraws legislative and congressional districts after a census. The current process is designed to create an electoral advantage which allows a political party to win a majority of seats, even if voters turn against that party in future elections.
"Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around," said Katie Fahey, founder of Voters Not Politicians. "When politicians control the process, they can create districts dominated by their supporters while marginalizing the opposition. They can choose their own voters."
The term “gerrymandering” comes from the contorted shapes created in the process of drawing such districts, which have been compared to a salamander-like monster. In Michigan, the boundaries of some districts are so disfigured that in places a district may be only a single street wide, or have tendrils that wrap around or even corkscrew into another district, rather than simply grouping neighboring communities.
"Politicians manipulate our voting maps to keep themselves in power, and with the help of new technology, they can do it with surgical precision," said Kevin Deegan-Krause, Associate Professor of political science at Wayne State University who studies electoral systems around the world. "That means that the preferences of ordinary people get pushed aside."
Studies by both the Associated Press and Brennan Center for Justice have labeled Michigan’s districts among the most politically manipulated in the nation.
The proposal will establish a 13-member independent citizens’ commission which would redraw congressional and state legislative district boundaries following each census. The commissioners will be Michigan registered voters and balanced among the two major parties and independents. Independents would have five members on the commission and the two major parties would each have four.
Commissioners would be drawn from a pool consisting of applicants from the general public and randomly selected voters invited to participate. Elected officials, paid lobbyists, political party officials and other political insiders would be ineligible to serve on the commission. The commission will be required to hold multiple public hearings on proposed maps and all meetings would be open to the public.
Approval of new district maps would be by majority vote, with the provision that a map must receive at least two votes from each of the three groups (Republican, Democrat and Independents), to guard against the commission being dominated by a partisan faction.
The proposal was developed through a process which included more than three dozen public meetings held throughout the state this spring in communities large and small, ranging from Houghton to Monroe to Benton Harbor. More than 3,000 people attended the town hall meetings, which provided an opportunity for voters to share their ideas on how they’d like to reform the redistricting process. Voters Not Politicians also collaborated closely with several partners that are recognized nationally as policy experts.
"People are demanding change, and I think the level of interest in the town hall meetings reflects that," said Nancy Wang, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Michigan and chair of the Voters Not Politicians policy team. "Voters are frustrated by what they see as a lack of responsiveness from the state legislature and Congress, and are looking to change that."
The Voters Not Politicians proposal builds on reforms already adopted in many other states. Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington have all placed redistricting authority in the hands of independent commissions. Iowa, New York and Maine all use independent or bipartisan commissions to draw districts for legislative approval.
Redistricting is done every 10 years (following the national census) and is required by the U.S. Constitution to adjust for population changes. In Michigan and many other states, that process is currently controlled by the governor and state legislature.
Under current state law the party in power following a census draws the new district boundaries. When one party has control of state government, those maps concentrate its opponent's supporters in a handful of districts, while its own supporters are spread out among the rest. As a result, the party drawing the lines might dependably win three-quarters of the seats in future elections, even if the opposition wins more votes statewide.
"Gerrymandering can allow one party to take a lopsided majority of seats that is way out of proportion to its support by voters," said Nancy Wang. "It also tends to produce more partisanship in the legislature, since it gives almost every legislator a safe district where the best way for politicians to get elected is to appeal to the extreme wing of their own party rather than to the moderates.
"This isn't a Democratic or a Republican issue," Fahey said. "We don't know what the governorship and state legislature are going to look like following the 2020 or who might control the process. So it's important to enact this now so that we've got a process in place that respects all interests before the next census takes place."
Voters Not Politicians, a grassroots coalition of more than 10,000 Michigan voters, will need to gather more than 315,000 valid signatures required to place the proposal on the 2018 statewide ballot.