Anti-gerrymandering proposal moving closer to Michigan ballot

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Voters Not Politicians has gathered more than 400,000 signatures, more than the number signatures that must be validated, to put the proposal on the 2018 ballot. The proposal would remove the Legislature as the drawer of district lines.

The campaign’s mission is to end the practice of partisan legislatures drawing voting districts that favor the party in charge and, replace it with a nonpartisan commission of voters. If the proposal passes in November, a 13-member commission — four Republicans, four Democrats, and five independent voters — will be chosen at random from pools of voters to redraw the district maps after the 2020 census.

(Editor’s note: The preceding paragraph was changed to more accurately reflect how commissioners will be chosen. The first paragraph was also changed to show an increase in the number of signatures gathered.)

Katie Fahey, president and treasurer of Voters Not Politicians, wrote in a press release, “Citizens are unhappy to learn that politicians get to choose their own voters instead of voters choosing them. Michigan is ready to end the extreme partisan gerrymandering, by both parties, that robs voters of their constitutional rights to hold representatives accountable at the ballot box.”

Every 10 years, after each U.S. Census, district lines are redrawn based on population movement. The Michigan Constitution states that the Legislature draws district lines. Republicans have dominated the Michigan Legislature since 2011.

According to Voters Not Politicians, in 2016 Democrats and Republicans running for the Michigan House received about the same number of votes. However, Republicans won 63 seats in the House, whereas Democrats received 47. In addition, a study by The Center for Michigan found that senatorial districts were even more imbalanced.

State Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D–East Lansing) said he is apart of the most gerrymandered body [senate] in the country.

Map of Michigan State Senate Districts

Created by Christine Kanerva using R coding software.

 

Hertel said, “For people who care about issues like gun safety, or the environment, women’s health issues, should care about gerrymandering because while 70 percent of people in Michigan don’t want guns in schools, we the Legislature just voted to put guns in schools.”

Gerrymandering creates districts that concentrate the minority party into few districts, then distribute the majority into districts where they hold small  hold majorities. This results in the majority party winning a larger proportion of seats than it had votes in the electorate.

Motion graphic on gerrymandering

Man standing infront of door

Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research in East Lansing.

Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research in East Lansing, said,  “It’s not to your benefit to have overwhelmingly your-party districts, so if you have a district that’s 90 percent Democrat that means that you’ve wasted about 30 percent of your vote. Anything over 60 percent is just wasted votes that could’ve gone into some other district.”

 

 

Bob LaBrant, an attorney who is fighting the proposal, said that Voters Not Politicians isn’t telling the whole story.

“Call me an excessive partisan, but I smell a rat,” said LaBrant.

LaBrant’s critique is that districts, like the 14th Congressional District, that Voters Not Politicians point to as being gerrymandered, aren’t actually gerrymandered. Rather, LaBrant said Detroit lost 25 percent of its population between the 2000 and 2010 census, resulting in the population spreading outward into the suburbs.

In Michigan, the 14th Congressional District is often used as an example of gerrymandering. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Labrant said that there are other factors that go into drawing district lines other than creating party winning districts. A major factor is drawing majority-minority districts that have a racial minority group(s) in control of the majority of a district’s total population.

“Sure, it looks ugly by extending that district all the way to Oakland County to capture the African-American population of Pontiac,” said LaBrant. “But guess what? If you hadn’t done that, you wouldn’t have gotten to 55 percent of the voter age population of African Americans.

Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said gerrymandering divides communities.

“There was a Hispanic community that was split in half and what that does is that it dilutes that voting population and their ability to elect someone of their choice,” said Byrum.

Growing up, Byrum’s family moved because of gerrymandering. Her mom, a state representative at the time, was drawn out of the district she represented.

Profile picture of Dianne Byrum

Dianne Byrum, current Michigan State University Board of Trustees. Photo courtesy of Byrum & Fisk

Dianne Byrum, who went on to the Michigan Senate and now on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees, said, “It forced me to make a decision to either stay where I was at, and run in a district that was redrawn for a Republican to win… or I could move and run in the district that I largely represented. So, I ended up moving.”

Her daughter, who also served in the Legislature, said “So yeah, these are the games politicians play and I’m a product of it. I had to go to a different high school for two years as a result.”

State Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) said change is just the right thing to do.

“At the end of the day, we should be competing on policies and ideas as opposed to trying to rig the lines to maximize one party over the other,” said Hoadley.