Now that the Republicans in Lansing have abandoned a nefarious plan to manipulate Michigan’s presidential elections, it’s time for the Democrats who have expressed outrage over this scheme to concede that they have participated in a system that rigged elections for Congress and the Legislature for decades.
And it’s time for average, disillusioned voters to stop these partisan games by putting forward a ballot proposal that ends the devious process of gerrymandering legislative districts.
The Michigan electorate deserves a chance to create the same kind of independent commission that presides over the nonpartisan drawing of districts as exists in several states.
After the stunning numbers that came out of the Nov. 4 general election – with votes skewed to a ridiculous extent in favor of the Republicans – it seems clear that redistricting reform should be near the top of every voter’s list.
It’s also abundantly clear that both political parties will do everything in their considerable power to stop such an effort.
The controversial GOP plan for presidential elections, previously put forward with a breathtaking amount of hubris by Macomb County’s own Pete Lund, a state representative from Shelby Township, would have allocated Michigan’s Electoral College votes proportionately based on the election results in each congressional district. In other words, this trickery would have relied upon a map drawn by the Republicans in a hyper-partisan manner.
That move would have so bastardized the will of the people that Mitt Romney, who lost the 2102 popular vote in Michigan by a substantial margin to President Obama, would have received a majority of the state’s Electoral College votes.
Lund introduced a new plan last week that seems less partisan, though it oddly seeks to dump the standard winner-take-all approach to elections by dividing up Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes based on the state’s margin of victory in the presidential race.
This loser-gets-a-share approach is designed to make Michigan a frequent campaign destination for those seeking the Oval Office, altering a system that dates back to 1836 by taking a chamber of commerce travel bureau approach to democracy.
At the same time, the far more egregious issue at the heart of Michigan’s brand of democracy was on full display in the general election. Though Michigan stands as a closely contested state up and down the ballot, most of the electorate lives in non-competitive districts where votes don’t count for much.
The jagged, zig-zagging districts that granted Democrats a clear advantage for many years when they were the majority in the state Capitol are now the product of Republicans in charge. Maybe the GOP is better at this game – or more ruthless – but the high-tech precision in drawing maps has produced a monstrous result.
Here was the outcome in the November election:
* The combined statewide popular vote for state House candidates gave Democrats a 51.2 percent share, but just 43 percent of House seats. As a result, a 56-54 advantage for Democrats that could have occurred in districts that were drawn in an entirely neutral manner was twisted into a 63-47 gap in favor of the GOP.
* The statewide result for state Senate gave the Republicans a 50.7 percent share of votes, but the outcome under Michigan’s gerrymandered districts saw the GOP grab 71 percent of the Senate seats, giving them a gaping split of 27-11 over the Democrats for the next four years.
* And in the elections for seats in Congress, the overall vote gave Democrats the “win” – 49.1 percent to 47.6 percent. But the doctored districts gave the Republicans the victory with a 9-5 edge in U.S. House seats.
Each of those numbers, this poisoning of our politics, is shameful.
They are the product of crimes of geography in which the politicians, whose main motivation is political power and self-preservation, are those who draw the maps. With a bit of good ol’ boy horse-trading thrown in by the party out of power, the final lines that are drawn amount to an incumbent protection plan.
As commentator George Will has said: “The voters don’t choose their representatives, the representatives choose their voters.”
The disingenuous claim by partisans on the left and on the right that a truly neutral, nonpartisan district does not and cannot exist is exactly the kind of noise that will be spread far and wide if a proposal for redistricting reform ever makes it to the ballot.
Anyone who has observed the squiggly district boundaries in North Carolina, for example, and compared them to the lines in Iowa (see map above) surely knows that an objective, nonpolitical approach toward the decennial rite of apportionment imparts a world of difference.
Iowa has emerged as the gold standard, a model of equity, for establishing fairness and objectivity in mapping out districts. In what may be the nation’s most politically charged state, Iowa has nonetheless created four congressional districts that are cleanly drawn to maximize the standards of square and compact shapes.
When the Boston Globe took a first-hand look at Iowa’s impartial approach, here is what they found: “The mapmakers are not allowed to consider previous election results, voter registration numbers, or even the addresses of the incumbent(s). … No politician – not the governor, the (state) House speaker, or Senate majority leader – is allowed to weigh in, or get a sneak preview.”
The result? Each district represents Iowa’s mix of urban and rural flavor. In addition, the Hawkeye State has some of the most competitive congressional elections in the nation.
Drawing 14 compact districts in Michigan would be more difficult given the state’s mitten shape. But California, with many more miles of jagged coastline and 53 congressional districts to work with, is among those states that successfully switched to an independent redistricting commission.
To be fair, outdated apportionment standards established by prior legislation and litigation would have to be challenged in Michigan, but other states have managed.
And, to be sure, Democrats and Republicans would demonize this approach. But what is their source of credibility on this issue? Voter dissatisfaction with incumbents hovers at record highs, yet nearly every incumbent seeking re-election at the congressional or state level won on Election Day. What does that say?
It’s also telling that in the 435-member U.S. House, a bill that would require nonpartisan districting in every state has just three supporters.
If Michigan undertakes a petition drive leading to a ballot proposal, the independents, the moderates, the ticket-splitters – and the good-government reformers – will have to lead the charge. Call it the I’m Not Going To Take It Anymore Coalition.
They will be up against those insiders who seek to protect their illegitimate distribution of power. It’s up to the voters to realize that, when these partisan practitioners slice and dice Michigan’s political landscape, it’s the people of all shapes and sizes who are left wounded.