Take it from someone who has seen redistricting close up: Proposal 2 will make government better

Proposal 2 on the November 6 ballot would create a (purportedly) nonpartisan commission to redraw boundary lines every 10 years for Congressional, state House and state Senate districts. This process is currently done in the state Legislature, by the very politicians who benefit from the results.

One of the immediate problems this proposal has with voters is that the one-sentence description I presented to start this discussion makes little sense to those who aren’t familiar with the terminology and processes of government related to redistricting. When another term for “redistricting” is used – reapportionment – even more eyes glaze over.

When we don’t easily grasp issues like this, we fall back to casting our votes based on whatever position our political party of choice puts forth. Or we rely on TV ads. Worse, sometimes voters just default to “no” when something is confusing.

No one expects the average voter to understand such things. That’s what you pay politicians for, right?

But this is something that politicians are happy that most voters don’t know about, because it makes it easier for them to abuse it to wield, expand and maintain political power.

Let me quash up front one of the top talking points of those who oppose Proposal 2: That it would take the power away from voters, because if voters don’t like how their representatives redraw district lines, they can always vote them out, and an appointed redistricting commission would not be as accountable.

Baloney. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by saying that no one has ever voted for or against someone because of how they voted on redistricting. Because they don’t know how they voted. Because they don’t know what redistricting is, or how it works. (Yes, I realize there are exceptions, but in general terms, I stand firmly on this point.)

Especially when one party has the governor’s office and majority control of the state House and Senate, there is no question that the party takes full advantage to rig the district map in their favor. Less discussed, but equally certain, is that individual politicians use the process for their own personal, political advantage.

I’ve seen all of this first-hand, having been a State Representative during a redistricting year. I’ve also been through a redistricting process for county commission districts.

That the redistricting process is rigged isn’t open for debate, so let’s not waste time arguing about it. Let’s avoid pulling out the emails from Republican operatives in 2011 that showed clear delight in how they screwed over Democrats with new district maps. Let’s not look at the map of Michigan’s 14th Congressional District, represented by Democrat Brenda Lawrence, that winds in the oddest shape from Pontiac, southwest to West Bloomfield, slicing due east to Grosse Pointe before winding along the Detroit River to southwest Detroit.

Let’s be clear, too: Democrats would do the same thing if they held full control of state government. Neither party has a monopoly on taking partisan advantage when it presents itself.

 

This is being fought in some quarters as a partisan issue. Some progressive/Democratic interests are helping to fund the vote yes side, and conservative/Republican interests are doing likewise for a no vote.

 

It’s not hard to figure why the partisans are lining up as they are. Republicans have fully controlled the last two redistricting processes in Michigan, and if they still hold power in 2021, approval of Proposal 2 will keep them from rigging the districts to guarantee they stay in power for the next 10 years. Of course this means Republican-connected money is backing the campaign against Proposal 2 and Democratic-connected money is providing support. (This is not to take away from the volunteers who gathered signatures in a truly grassroots effort, unlike the paid petition circulators used so frequently these days.)

 

But Republican opponents of the measure should consider this irony: If there is a Democratic tsunami this year as some suggest is possible, and Democrats gain full control of state government, Republicans will be happy to see Proposal 2 approved as part of the Blue Wave. Because then, the Democrats, if holding power, won’t be able to use it to cement their own advantage with districts. History shows that the pendulum swings, political attitudes and power shift. To oppose Proposal 2 now because one believes it would hurt their party is short-sighted. The Michigan Constitution is a framework for government that works over time, no matter who holds power at the moment.

Which leads me to this conclusion. The true result of approval of Proposal 2 would not be to disadvantage one party and boost the other.

 

The true result would be better government by eliminating gerrymandering. Because, ending gerrymandering would help stem the hyper-partisanship that has divided our government to the point of near-full dysfunction.

Gerrymandering – the drawing of district boundaries to benefit a political party or an incumbent official – does not serve the public. It serves the politicians. (Can we at least all agree that gerrymandering is bad?)

With gerrymandering, you mostly get districts that strongly favor one party or the other. There are very few legislative districts that are actually balanced, with either party having a decent chance of winning. Instead, you have “safe” Democratic or Republican seats, and this hurts government in two ways:

  1. The winner of the dominant party’s primary election in August is almost assured to easily win that district's seat in the November election. This means the representative is not chosen by a large number of voters in November, but by a relatively small number of one party’s voters in August. When more voters turn out in November, their votes in that race are irrelevant, because it has already been decided in the primary election. This does not make for good, representative government.
     

  2. Since the primary election is decided by more active, party-focused voters, a winning candidate will in many cases hold the dominant party’s more extreme views, instead of moderate positions that may better fit with a larger cross-section of the district. More representatives elected with extreme partisan views means less chance of the parties cooperating with each other. In fact, this is a major factor in the nasty partisanship that keeps our representatives from finding common ground on issues.
     

Proposal 2 is not perfect. The full-length text of how it would change the state Constitution is complicated. And there’s probably no system possible that won’t allow for some partisan shenanigans, no matter how hard they try to make it an even balance.

But, we have before us a rare, and perhaps our only, opportunity to change a system that is not conducive to good government.

Again, I’ve been there, I’ve witnessed the process. It stinks.  Our government will be better if we change it.

I urge you to read as much objective information as you need to make a truly informed decision, setting aside the partisan bickering, the propaganda memes on social media, and the expected onslaught of TV ads with distorted generalities on both sides of the issue.

If you do, I’m confident that you will join me in strongly supporting Proposal 2 on November 6.

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You can avoid misinformation about the proposed constitutional amendment by actually reading the whole thing by clicking here.

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What is redistricting?

In our democratic republic, the people self-govern through their elected representatives. While most people go about the business of their lives, they entrust their individual interests in government to a single representative of their area. That “area” is formally defined as a district, which has specific boundaries.

We elect members of the United States Congress by district. In Michigan, our state representatives and state senators are elected by district.

 

The districts for each office must contain roughly the same number of people. The U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment gave us what’s known as the one-person, one-vote rule. That is, one person’s vote should count as much as everyone else’s. So, each district must have the same population as all others.

 

But, population changes over time. People move from one place to another. Younger communities grow, older communities shrink.

 

So, to keep the population of districts equal, the boundaries are changed to reflect changes in population.

 

This occurs after the U.S. Census every 10 years. When new population figures are known, the map of legislative districts is redrawn.  The act of redrawing districts has morphed into the term, “redistricting.”

 

All of that is a long way of saying: Redistricting is the redrawing of boundaries of congressional and state districts every 10 years.

 

Currently, in Michigan and many states, the state Legislature draws the district maps. Proposal 2 on the November 6 ballot is an attempt to change that method, by establishing a redistricting commission separate from elected officials.