Following up on an earlier WLD article about the much-followed grassroots effort to to dramatically change the political landscape of our state, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers has approved an anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal created by the non-partisan group Voters Not Politicians (VNP) for the Nov. 6 election.
“Gerrymandering” is a practice of manipulating district boundaries to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group. The political strategy got its start back in 1812 when then Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that redefined the states districts to benefit his political party. The strategy was to redistrict areas in such a way that voters for his party were in the majority and voters for the opposition party were in the minority. When one of the newly contorted districts looked like a salamander, the term “Gerrymander” was coined to describe such a practice.
District boundaries are redrawn after every 10-year census by the majority party. The current districts were created after the 2010 Census by the majority Republican Party at that time. The map below shows the unusual shapes some districts have taken due to gerrymandering in which the balance of political power isn’t reflective of the vote – note District 11. Dexter is in District 7.
In recent elections cycles, Michigan House Democrats and House Republicans have split the vote almost 50/50, but Republicans hold a 63-47 majority as a result of the gerrymandering strategy. Similar scenarios can be found in the State Senate and Congressional districts.
Voters Not Politicians is a grassroots effort that started last summer with a Facebook post by founder Kate Fahey expressing her disgust with the current political system. The idea caught on, momentum built, and a movement was born. Volunteers quickly organized and began collecting signatures to put a proposal to end gerrymandering on the November 2018 ballot.
The idea of some political power being taken back by the people caught on and people signed the petitions. VNP needed 315,654 signatures to get on the ballot but ended up turning in 425,000 signatures. What’s more, the validation rate for the signatures was an astounding 92% compared to the typical 62% vetting of valid names on a petition.
The VNP proposal would address gerrymandering by establishing a redistricting commission to draw legislative lines in Michigan. The 13-member commission would be comprised of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independent members who are not affiliated with any major political party.
The grassroots efforts of VNP hasn’t gone unchallenged. The Republican-led group, Save Michigan’s Constitution, has filed suit to block VNP’s momentum. Three weeks ago, the Michigan Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the proposal can go on the November ballot. The Court also ordered the Michigan Board of State Canvassers to fulfill its obligations in assuring the VNP proposal gets on the November 2018 general election ballot.
Save Michigan’s Constitution has appealed their case to the Michigan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has ordered the state to consider the proposal while it decides whether or not to hear the case.
Kate Fahey says, “We fully expect the Supreme Court will concur with the Court of Appeals that the pro-gerrymandering campaign to keep the voters Not Politicians proposal off the ballot is without merit. We look forward to being on the ballot in November, and giving voters a chance to change our current system, where politicians and lobbyists operate behind closed doors to draw district lines for partisan gain. Our polling and our volunteer signature collection and canvassing results show Michigan voters support our plan for a transparent, non-partisan, Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.”
The Michigan Supreme Court is not expected to stop the proposal. If the proposal does withstand this final court challenge, then voters will have the chance to decide on a measure to end gerrymandering of Michigan’s Legislative and congressional districts.