The anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal put forward by the group Voters Not Politicians would go beyond putting an end to district boundaries with squiggly lines to emphasize competitive elections and “communities of interest.”
The petition drive, which is aimed at the 2018 state ballot, would offer a constitutional amendment that casts aside Michigan’s long-held, court-imposed standards that cities and counties cannot be sliced up – within obvious limitations — when creating congressional and legislative district maps. That could mean even less emphasis on square, compact districts than under the current system, which is controlled by the Legislature.
Instead, the Voters Not Politicians approach would emphasize the creation of competitive districts, as much as the state’s geography allows, where neither political party would have a distinct partisan advantage.
Second, the reform plan would adopt the communities of interest concept, which would give weight to cultural aspects, creating districts with commonality based on racial or ethnic populations, or core economic characteristics.
For example, the process might create an agricultural district, a blue-collar district, or a district along the Lake Michigan shoreline where tourism is abundant.
The proposal would remove the Legislature’s control of redistricting and establish a 13-member independent citizens commission on which independent voters would have five members, and the two major parties would each have four. The de-emphasis on Democrats and Republicans could be a big plus for the proposal.
Elected officials, lobbyists, party officials and other political insiders would be ineligible to serve on the commission, which would hold public hearings before approving proposed district maps by majority vote, with at least two votes required from each of the three groups represented on the commission.
Several states have already switched to an independent commission or other reforms to remove the highly partisan taint of typical redistricting processes controlled by state legislators.
Hopefully, the proposed Michigan process would rely upon computer software and algorithms – not commission members or consultants — to produce numerous potential maps.
In the last three election cycles, Republicans running for state House, state Senate and Congress have received a disproportionate share of votes – and won a disproportionate share of districts – in part due to gerrymandering by the GOP. In past decades, the Democrats played the same game by drawing the lines in their favor.
But the communities of interest approach may cause political problems for Voters Not Politicians if the proposal gets to the ballot and a highly charged campaign ensues.
Robert LaBrant, a Republican consultant who is a veteran of numerous redistricting fights in Lansing, has warned that California’s experience with poorly defined communities of interest raises a red flag. In the Golden State, the redistricting commission faced intense lobbying from ethnic groups, particularly southern California’s largest-in-the-nation Vietnamese community, to draw the congressional maps in their favor. In northern California, an approved coastline district that is far from square extends hundreds of miles along the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to the Oregon border.
What’s more, LaBrant predicts that the desire for competitive districts will clash with the emphasis on districts with commonality. He asserts that you can’t have both.
In the meantime, assuming the Michigan ballot language is approved, Voters Not Politicians must collect about 316,000 valid signatures to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2018 ballot. The group says they have 7,000 volunteers lined up to circulate petitions across the state.