A simple Facebook post by Katie Fahey was the start of Voters Not Politicians, a group aimed at ending gerrymandering in Michigan.
Fahey said she posted on her Facebook one day asking if anyone was interested in helping her end the practice of manipulating political jurisdiction boundaries to favor a party. She received multiple replies, the group quickly formed and it began to frame the mission.
Judy Karandjeff, president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, said that every state is responsible for deciding how they want to redraw these boundaries. Some states have independent commissions where members are not public officials or lawmakers. Other states have politician commissions where all members are incumbent lawmakers.
“In Michigan, those lines are drawn by legislators. The plan then has to be approved by the majority vote in each chamber and is subject to veto. There are also public hearings and opportunities for public input,” Karandjeff said. “However, the League of Women Voters in Michigan feels the current process allows politicians to manipulate these boundaries, keeping them in power.”
Instead of politicians drawing these boundaries, Voters not Politicians proposed an independent redistricting commission of registered Michigan voters to draw them. It needed 315,654 valid signatures in 180 days to secure a spot on the ballot for the November, election. Within 110 days, more than 425,000 Michigan residents signed the petition and the Bureau of Elections released a sample of signatures that were able to be challenged up until Thursday.
While 425,000 signatures might sound like a lot, Judi Brown Clarke, a former Lansing city council member who has a doctorate in public policy and administration, said Voters Not Politicians has a lot of work ahead.
“A lot of times people will sign a ballot who are registered to vote but they don’t vote,” Brown Clarke said. “There’s a huge undercount of people who are registered to vote that are either disenfranchised or apathetic, they don’t vote. So when it comes to the ballot and people are actually voting, a percentage of those individuals that are absolutely aligned with this effort, won’t go to the polls.”
Brown Clarke, a former mayoral candidate for Lansing, said that getting on the ballot was just one hurdle. The next hurdle for this group will be to have enough people who are in align with their language to actually go out and vote.
Fahey, now the president and treasurer of Voters Not Politicians, has big plans for the remaining months before the election.
“We see that the majority of people who will likely vote in 2018 don’t know anything about redistricting or gerrymandering,” Fahey said. “So our biggest task is making sure we’re going out and spreading the word and talking to people about this issue.”
Fahey said that the group launched a door-to-door program where they can look up registered voters and talk to them about gerrymandering and their solution. She said they are planning to do a lot of education events and find other partners such as student organizations who want to help teach people more about their proposal.
While educating voters will be their main focus, Voters Not Politicians will also have to face a group called Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution who are challenging their ballot initiative. The opposing group believes the proposal amends too many parts of Michigan’s constitution. If the Court of Appeals doesn’t rule on the issue by the deadline Sept. 6, they asked that the petition be rejected.
To learn more about the group Voters Not Politicians and gerrymandering, information can be found at votersnotpoliticians.com and lwvmi.org.