Opinion | Don’t insult Michigan voters, let them vote on redistricting

Bill Bobier, pictured here, is a former Michigan representative. from Hesperia. M.L. “Mickey” Knight, not pictured, is a former representative from Muskegon.

Editor's note: Bridge Magazine solicited guest commentary from supporters and opponents of a ballot measure to create an independent commission to draw political districts. Bridge will publish a commentary opposing the measure if one is submitted.

Article I, Section 1 of the Michigan Constitution states it clearly: “All political power is inherent in the people.”

And the last section in our 1963 Constitution, Article XII, clearly grants citizens the power to amend their state Constitution by voter petition – without limitations.

In other words, our state Constitution, from beginning to end, trusts the people of Michigan to responsibly use their voting power to amend the state’s Constitution when needed.

On Wednesday, this principle will be put to a test. The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case challenging whether the anti-gerrymandering proposal sponsored by Voters Not Politicians will be on the November ballot. 

As two former Republican lawmakers who support the citizen-driven Voters Not Politicians, we believe the argument put forward by the (ironically named) Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, shows disrespect for the right of the people to decide how their government works, and contempt for the intelligence of the voters.

Voters Not Politicians’ all-volunteer army of petition gatherers, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, collected 425,000 valid signatures, as required by the state’s Constitution and laws.

This grassroots army came together because everyone knows our current redistricting system is corrupt. It puts politicians in charge of drawing their own districts, lets them operate behind closed doors, and encourages those politicians to put personal and partisan interests ahead of those of Michigan citizens.

The Voters Not Politicians proposal creates an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission – much like the one adopted in the 1963 Constitution – that must operate in complete transparency to draw district lines for Congress and the Michigan Legislature. And the proposal ensures maps do not give a disproportionate political advantage to any party or candidate.

Unfortunately, in recent years politicians have quietly clawed back control of the redistricting process, killing the citizens’ commission and rigging the system to put themselves in the position of picking their voters, instead of voters picking their politicians.

Certain elements of the current redistricting process would stay in place. The proposal requires districts to be compact, contiguous and avoid unduly breaking county and city boundaries. But today’s politicians use computers to give lip service to these requirements and instead focus their attention to how to draw districts to give their party maximum power.

The Voters Not Politicians proposal is exactly the kind of citizen-driven reform our Constitution drafters envisioned in 1963. We don’t see how rule-of-law judges, following the strict language of our Constitution, can deny the people of Michigan a chance to consider this important reform.

The court’s ruling will be watched closely – not just by the 425,000 signers of the petitions to put the measure on the ballot, but by millions of other voters who expect their judges to follow the state’s Constitution, not the directives of special interests.

The proposed Voters Not Politicians constitutional amendment is needed now more than ever.

Michigan has real problems that our current “gerrymandered” Legislature has not fixed.  It has allowed our roads to crumble and a once proud education system to falter. In communities across the state, citizens can’t even drink the water. Partisan gerrymandering is one reason why. (And yes, if the Democrats take control in a “blue wave” and control redistricting in 2021, they will do the same thing.)

Because of partisan gerrymandering, most elections today are decided in primaries, where few people vote. That encourages candidates to cater to a small group of activists and elites, to the far right and far left. Those politicians who worry about primaries, not general elections, are unwilling to come to agreement – and Michigan’s problems are kicked down the road.

The pro-gerrymandering group that is trying to keep this off the ballot says it’s too complicated for voters to figure out. They say the proposal affects too many sections of the state’s Constitution.

Nonsense. We have full faith in the voters to be able to understand the differences between citizens working in public and politicians working in secret. And the proposal affects only redistricting, not any other matter.

That’s why the Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled in a unanimous opinion that the CPMC complaint was “without merit.”

We firmly expect the Michigan Supreme Court to come back with the same finding, and give Michigan voters a chance to end partisan gerrymandering in our state. And we will be working this fall to help pass this much-needed reform, and return our state to a government where, as our Constitution begins, “All political power is inherent in the people.”

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

Like what you’re reading in Bridge? Please consider a donation to support our work!

We are a nonprofit Michigan news site focused on issues that impact all citizens. In an era of click bait and biased news, we focus on taking the time to learn both sides of a story before we post it. Bridge stories are always free, but our work costs money. If our journalism helps you understand and love Michigan more, please consider supporting our work. It takes just a moment to donate here.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

Dotdash
Wed, 07/18/2018 - 2:46pm

Michigan's district maps are famously gerrymandered, 7 times more gerrymandered than one would get by chance. So we know there is something wrong and we know the legislature is not going to fix the problem -- because they created it. So let the people vote on the issue as is our constitutional right.

The opposition to this ballot initiative can always campaign against it, after all.

Robert Dunn
Wed, 07/18/2018 - 11:32pm

I appreciate the analysis and belief in the voters you have put forward in your opinion.

duane
Thu, 07/19/2018 - 1:16am

My understanding that 'gerrymandering' has been in use for over 200 years, we have survived and built an abundant society, each party has been in control and applied 'gerrymandering' and both have lost control with that power, so what has been the great harm, what has been the great lost opportunities because of 'gerrymandering?'

Which states that have removed 'gerrymandering' are doing so much better than the states still using, and can their difference in performance be directly linked to that change?

I have asked these questions time and again whenever the issue is raise and the answer I get is silence. Let's watch and see if anyone, especially the authors will answer.

As best I can tell this is an exercise of the egos by those who are out of power to feed their egos. They seem to want to do this simply because they can.

VNP volunteer
Thu, 07/19/2018 - 9:13am

Duane, trust me, we haven't been collecting signatures, attending events, donating money, and knocking on doors simply to satisfy some mysterious ego need! This has been hard work. I'd also question your assertion that "we've built an abundant society" - that doesn't seem to apply to Michigan as we speak. Compare us to California, which eliminated gerrymandering: it may be hard to link specific results to specific causes, but the contrast is surely notable.

I am hopeful that eliminating gerrymandering will bring back the days I remember when I voted for candidates in both parties, and Democrats and Republicans were friends whose commitment was more to the country than to the party. The bitter feuding and alienation between parties is fueled largely by the jockeying among candidates running in primaries in "safe" districts, who have no incentive to appeal to moderate voters. Michigan can do better!

duane
Thu, 07/19/2018 - 10:45pm

I don't doubt that it has been hard work, but I am still waiting to hear the harm 'gerrymandering' has cause or the lost good that would have been created without it, or how it has ensured either Party staying in power.
If you can't show the 'good' or 'bad' of 'gerrymandering,' we should expect nothing will change. If nothing measurable will change then why should people see this as other than simply an exercise in changing the Constitution to prove you can [feeding the ego]?
What do you expect to change after the elimination of 'gerrymandering'?

Why did you mention California for removing of 'gerrymandering'? If you have no examples of how removal of 'gerrymandering' change the state for the better, it would seem it proves that 'gerrymandering' is a none issue, and whether it is there or not makes no difference on the conditions of the state.

As for safe districts, how can you be so sure of that and that voters won't vote differently than the way the Party wants them to? In the last election it would seem that the Democrat Party had full confidence in how their voters would vote and yet, their candidate lost. If we look at Michigan State wide offices, if 'gerrymandering' so surely establishes safe districts then why are all the state wide offices held by Republicans where safe districts have no impact? If the state wide offices are Republican why shouldn't we expect the Senate and House to reflect that? In California that is true where the Democrats dominate, so that even brings us back to what will removing change in Michigan politics? Will the voters still get to vote in private [secret ballot]?

Randal L Buist
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 9:57am

Without gerrymandering, the U.S. House of Representatives would currently be led by the Democratic party. It's quite likely that that current president would actually have checks and balances in congress if the House was controlled by the opposing party. If we did not have gerrymandering, the state house would likely be controlled by the Democratic party as well. Instead, all three branches of our government in the State of Michigan are controlled by the Republican party by huge margins -- even though the state is split with a slight majority favoring the Democratic party. These kind of results happen only with gerrymandering. If you can't see the consequences... oh my.

duane
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 1:03pm

Is 'gerrymandering a Michigan vote or a national vote? It seems your claim is about what you believe the Democrats deserve, control Congress, while you acknowledge the voting in Michigan independent of 'gerrymandering' has install Republicans in all State wide elected offices. Or can you explain how 'gerrymandering' affects the Governor, AD, Sec State voting?
Is 'gerrymandering' controlling Michigan politics or the voters? Or could it be that not all registered Democrat voters vote Democrat, and that is more your concern? And how do you address the no partisan voters [independent] in all of the voting results we have been having? By ignoring the nonpartisan voters [which seems to be a growing part of the electorate, quite possibly at the expense of historic Democratic rolls] you leave the impression of a Democrat frustrated with the voters choices? If Michigan retains the Republicans in the State offices will the 'secret ballot' be next on your list for repeal?

As for the Republic margins, the best example of those margins are the party of the Governor, AG, Sec State, but I don't see how 'gerrymandering' affects that, will you enlighten me?

Dan Moerman
Thu, 07/19/2018 - 10:20am

duane. . . in the 2016 election for the Michigan Senate, almost identical totals of Republican and Democratic votes were case; a tiny edge of about 1% to the Republicans. Outcome? 9 Republican wins, 5 Democratic wins. That's gerrymandering.

duane
Thu, 07/19/2018 - 10:52pm

Dan,

Are you guaranteeing that without 'gerrymandering' that would not have been the results? If all districts were split to you 'ideal' would each district be evenly balanced by the number of registered partisan voters? If so, than wouldn't that 1% yield a similar results? The only way you could make a guarantee of different results is if you shaded one Party registrations over another, otherwise just as the state wide vote went would the district votes go [even split than the voting totals would reflect the state wide results, statistical distribution].

David Waymire
Sun, 07/22/2018 - 1:04pm

Duane, this is supposed to be about good candidates and good ideas. If one party has good candidates and ideas, it shouldn't matter if the districts are set up fairly or not. But there is no way someone can look at Michigan, and know the history of how this came about, and not know that the districts are rigged for the party in power. And yes, in the last 20 years, since the 2001 gerrymander started the use of computers to maximize power, Michigan has dropped from a state that was top 20 in per capita income and in low unemployment (2000) to a state where today we are in the bottom 20 of per capita income and have one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation -- even during a time of full auto recovery. Meanwhile, California, which was gerrymandered for Democrats but now has a citizens commission, has seen its economy grow dramatically, it's surplus increase substantially, and ranks high in per capita income. It's not about the party in power...it's about candidates having to pay attention to general elections, not just primaries, on both sides of the aisle.

duane
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 1:15pm

David,
Your justification for removal of ‘gerrymandering’ seems to be a concern with a lack of quality candidates and quality ideas. And yet you fail to ask for new ideas, if anything attack those that are offered that challenging them with issues to address, nor do you ask for ideas about recruiting and selecting better candidates.
If the quality of candidates is your concern that how would you describe a quality candidate or do you simply believe your Party picks the best? The reality is that the control of Party over the selection was significantly diminished if not ended when the Party primaries we opened to all voters and were no longer a Party only vote. Can anyone run in a Party Primary no matter their historic record? If that is the case ‘gerrymandering’ seems to have little if any impact on candidate selection, so I wonder how this change will address you concern for improving quality of candidates.

I do have a similar concern for quality of candidates; however I suggest a more direct approach. Why don’t we [you and I] start right here by offering ideas of what knowledge and skills we feel are important for a quality candidate to possess? We can start with just key elements and then later expand on, we offer the reasoning behind each, we can look for way to determines candidate’s knowledge and skills on each, etc. I will offer an example; I believe it is most important that legislator know how to ask questions and listen. I believe their role is not to have ‘THE answer’, rather to select the best answer available. To find such answers they need to know how to ask questions and listen to the answers.

Your lack of looking for new/innovative ideas independent of Partisanship causes me to wonder if you have any experience at developing new/innovative ideas or a real desire of such ideas. You remind me of Mr. Power on the issue of candidates and campaigns, he only sees one problem, too much spending [even though time and again it is proven not to carry voting], but rather than try to understand why it is happening he simply wants to stop it or at least berate but never understand the cause and address it.
Do you want better candidates, do you want a broader selection of ideas, then learn how to ask and listen not grab on to a simply answer that will not change either.

Randal L Buist
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 9:51am

So your argument against this proposal is this: Representative government is not of importance if it does not directly benefit you... Thanks for adding much to this conversation. :)

duane
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 11:00pm

No! Whether it passes of fails, nothing will change for me because nothing of consequences will change in Lansing because you and those on both sides of the vote won't make the effort to work on making voters better informed and encouraging people working on problems not politics.
My argument against this change in the Constitution is that there is no demonstrable harm that has been done nor any good that has been prevented. That simply doing something because it can be done does not justify all that has gone into this change.

Rather than making everything a grab for political leverage [for this is nothing but politics], we need to be defining problems, investigating the causes, and working to resolve the problems. If you can describe how this change in the Michigan Constitution will instigate a new focus on solving problems and a diminished division by partisan politics than I will no only support this effort this effort but become an active contributor to the problem solving conversations/efforts it stimulates.

Do you honestly think that with the removal of 'gerrymandering' that the vastly more students will gain learning success, that the roads will last longer and be better to drive on, that people in mass will get better paying jobs, that people will be healthier, etc.? That is dillusional, students learn not because of the pay of a teacher but in the work the student is willing to do to learn, the roads won't get any better until the quality of repair improve, the means and methods for building the roads improves, that new technologies are applied to the roads, people won't get better paying jobs until they develop better knowledge and skills, and people will have to change their lifestyles to improve their health. You see none of what politician talk about is within their control, so who is elected and trying to get reelect does understand what can be done let alone what needs to be done. Get over it, 'gerrymandering' will change nothing because it is about the problem.

Arjay
Thu, 07/19/2018 - 2:04pm

Anyone running for office should be running on a level playing field. That said, I can not support the VNP proposed amendment because it does not define who the tie breaking independent members of the commission will be. We are all IINO's (independent in name only), and we all have a leaning either left or right. With the correct independents selected, the commission would be severely tilted. I would much rather see an agreement on a process, then let the computer draw the boundaries. Parts of the process might be geographic or governmental boundaries. Getting all districts to represent approximately the same number of people would be easy using census data. Another process check might be that the districts have to be approximately rectangular, with the deviations from a straight side due to geographic or governmental boundary. The only flaw in my thinking is how to accommodate the Voting Rights act, but if we want a more perfect design of the districts, we would have to decide whether or not that should happen.

David Waymire
Sun, 07/22/2018 - 1:07pm

Arjay, you do realize that the proposal requires any map to have at least two supporters from each of the three "party" groups. That will force compromise. And both the current process and the Votes Not Politicians process uses the Voting Rights Act...and they must (and should), since it's a national requirement. Frankly, there is nothing to keep those choose from letting a computer draw the maps if they so decide. That will NEVER happen under our current process. Vote YES for VNP to move closer to your ideal.

Info Dawg
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 1:17pm

Libertarians for the first time will be on the primary BALLOT with Gubernatorial candidates because enough Libertarians showed up to vote in the 2016 election. The other category is for Independents or third party voters. Just because you subscribe to one of the two power houses doesn't mean the rest of us do. I am thankful that this proposal actually makes room for those of us who have consistently voted outside of the 'two-party' system.

Info Dawg
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 1:18pm

Libertarians for the first time will be on the primary BALLOT with Gubernatorial candidates because enough Libertarians showed up to vote in the 2016 election. The other category is for Independents or third party voters. Just because you subscribe to one of the two power houses doesn't mean the rest of us do. I am thankful that this proposal actually makes room for those of us who have consistently voted outside of the 'two-party' system.

Vince Schumacher
Mon, 07/23/2018 - 2:20pm

RJ
Let's try this "level playing field" analogy.
I have a friend who opines that the party that wins the elections gets to move the ball toward their goals. I agree. However, I do not agree that getting possession of the ball entitles his team to redesign the field.
My friend was silent for a while, then offered this challenge to any messing with the power of the powerful:
"Why should we allow people who do not pay taxes to vote? We ought to deny the vote to anyone who does not contribute to the state treasury."
How would you distinguish that system from an oligarchy? Or perhaps "plutarchy" would be a better term.
I trust you to define "oligarchy" and "plutarchy." And to read closely the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution.
Vince S.