Redistricting Ballot Proposal Files 450,000 Signatures

Dissecting the Details on the Move to End Gerrymandering

Posted In: Politics, State, Local,   From Issue 855   By: Greg Schmid

28th December, 2017     0

Activists calling themselves “Voters Not Politicians” need 315,654 net signatures to place a Constitutional Amendment on the Michigan Ballot next November. They submitted 425,000 gross signatures with the state on December 18, 2017, and if their validity rates are typical they should have enough valid signatures to achieve ballot access. They claim to be an all-volunteer group, whatever that means these days.

Democrats aim to change the way voting districts are re-drawn every ten years by replacing the legislators in charge of drawing the district lines in favor of an independent 13-Member Independent Commission (four Democrats, four Republicans and five who are “non-affiliated” and independent”, promising to effectively end the process of gerrymandering. 

The five members with no affiliation with either major party would be picked from a random pool selected by the Secretary of State, from members of the general public who apply, and from applicants who respond to a mailing to 10,000 voters. The four legislative leaders could block some applicants from the pool, and elected officials, candidates, legislative employees, lobbyists, and some state employees and their families would be excluded.

The proposed redistricting panel would be prohibited from providing a “disproportionate advantage” to a political party, using “accepted measures of partisan fairness.” According to proponents, Michigan systematically dilutes the voting strength of Democrat voters statewide when Republican’s dominate the legislature and the redistricting process, letting the fox watch the chicken coup and perpetuating the Republican advantage in the legislature. This solution is the most recent in a long line of “solutions,” but it might be the cure that’s worse than the disease, and it does not solve the county redistricting around the state.

The Legislature now creates the district maps, which are subject to a gubernatorial veto and a legal challenge. County governments engage in politically motivated redistricting too, and in Saginaw County the Republican Party has long lamented the business end of gerrymandering, as they have watched helplessly for decades as Democrats gerrymander the county commission seats so as not to risk a Republican majority ever taking control. Democrats in State government enjoyed the gerrymander for decades too, and without any complaint, back when they dominated the state house.

Most political players acknowledge the problem; each dominant party tries to “fix” future elections by using computer data analytics to draw districts to their own advantage. Parties know the voter make-up of communities right down to the census block, and new analytics tools make gerrymandering easy.  Developments in technology allow drawing of district lines to attain a particular partisan composition with near-perfect precision through techniques dubbed "packing" and "cracking."

The gerrymander is a basic time-worn political play, but the issue for Michigan voters will be whether the proposed solution would solve the problem, or simply shift the advantage back to the Democratic Party, and whether voters will identify democratic party sponsors of redistricting with fair play and reward democratic party candidates in November.

Proponents say Michigan is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Republicans counter that there was no gerrymandering in 2011, and it is true that their plan was pre-approved from the U.S. Justice Department under the Obama Administration and adhered to state and federal rules.

Gerrymandering is a partisan game, so the voters will need to look at how the new commission would be appointed to ensure fairness, and whether the new commission would actually result in more objective redistricting which would not result in advantages or disadvantages for either party.  The new proposal would change 11 sections of the Michigan Constitution, including the creation of an elaborate new process for the Michigan Secretary of State’s office to randomly select members for the independent redistricting commission.

The Committee To Protect Michigan Voters is opposing the proposal. Bob LaBrant (formerly Chamber of Commerce) says that putting 13 people with absolutely no experience in charge of the complex redistricting process makes little sense. He has indicated he intends to sue to keep the measure off the ballot for having more than a single purpose. Proponents of the proposal accuse “establishment elites” of working the thwart the initiative. “The proponents want “to take the redistricting process out of the hands of our elected representatives and hand it to a panel of bureaucrats who will in no way be accountable to Michigan voters,” chairman Ron Weiser said in a statement. “This proposal will lead to our citizens having less say in who represents them.”

Gerrymandering is in the US Supreme court right now, where opponents of redistricting say that data-crunching is now so sophisticated that there could be virtually no competition in U.S. elections in much of the country after 2020, if the high court doesn't impose restraints. Others scholars complain about vague standards making every district subject to litigation, and the modern approach has to accept redistricting as a basic fact of life since objective standards like one-man one-vote are in place, but geography just does not work that nicely.

The current proposal sounds great on paper, but it ultimately just shifts to subjective decision making process to a different group of people, claiming this would prove a more fair result. This works for the party on the outs, because they could persuade or pressure unexperienced commissioners to make districts more competitive, meaning that they get gerrymandered to give democrats a better chance to win elections.

The whole problem with gerrymandering is that power doesn’t divide well, so no one can really be trusted to do the job without having an agenda; the only thing we have to fall back on, as usual, is the rough justice of the voting booth. Until Americans start showing up to vote at each and every election, we will get the government they deserve, and gerrymandering to boot.




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