Lame duck Michigan legislators aim to shape redistricting over protests

Detroit-area volunteers for Voters Not Politicians pose with director Katie Fahey (center) near a campaign office on election day. Six volunteers spoke against the proposed bill during a committee hearing Tuesday. (Bridge photo by Riley Beggin)

Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

Less than a month ago, more than 60 percent of Michiganders approved a new system for redistricting that intentionally boxed out the influence of the legislature.

Now, under a new bill passed out of state Senate committee Tuesday, the new redistricting commission and incoming Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson may have some direction from the lame-duck, Republican-led legislature.

A bill, introduced by Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, seeks to define one of the most-criticized elements of the new redistricting system: How the state will determine commission applicants’ political party affiliation.

The guidelines are crucial for a citizens commission that is designed to give equal voice to Democrats and Republicans alike, along with citizens from neither major party.

Related: Michigan power grabs, pipelines and pot: What we’re tracking in lame duck
Related: In lame duck, all eyes are on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

A person who “adheres to or acts to further the purposes or objectives of (a) party” would be considered affiliated with that party under the legislation. “An expression of sympathy” for a party or its objectives wouldn’t be enough on its own. People would be “conclusively” affiliated with a party if they gave money to it in the last six years.

The constitutional amendment passed by voters in November already specifies that lying about party affiliation on an application could be punished as perjury, but the Pavlov bill also outlines a punishment — a civil fine of $500.

Pavlov said his bill is intended to create “additional safeguards to protect the integrity of the independent redistricting commission” and does not regulate or amend the constitutional amendment itself.

The commission “was always designed to try to remain nonpartisan,” Pavlov said, adding that the bill would simply build in additional precautions. “We want to remove any doubts so the voters have confidence in what they voted for.”

The constitutional amendment dramatically changes the state’s redistricting system. Before, the majority party in the legislature drew state and congressional voting district lines in Michigan, largely behind closed doors (and often with partisan intent). As Bridge has also reported, Michigan has one of the most gerrymandered legislative maps in the nation.

Under the constitutional amendment passed in November, a newly created citizens commission of four Republicans, four Democrats and five people unaffiliated with either major party will draw the maps with public input following the next redistricting cycle, following the 2020 U.S. Census.

Members of Voters Not Politicians, the group behind the proposal that created the new redistricting commission, said Tuesday they are outraged by Pavlov’s proposal. They say the bill is a violation of the will of the people by placing constraints on a commission that is designed to be “self-executing” by making choices without direction from partisan legislators.

“This bill is unconstitutional on its face, it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars and it’s a blatant, politically-motivated effort,” said Nancy Wang, board president of Voters Not Politicians, told members of the Senate Government Operations Tuesday. Six others spoke in opposition to the bill during the hearing; no one besides Pavlov spoke in support.

Michael Li, an expert in redistricting from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, said that while he believes the legislature is within its rights to legislate some things related to the commission, the bill is “troubling.”

Because the commission applications likely won’t be available until the end of 2019, there’s plenty of time for rules to be created with ample public input, he said. “The fact that they’re trying to rush it through suggests that there’s something untoward about it. That’s the disturbing part of it.”

Arnold Weinfeld, Interim Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, said the bill may be good policy, but “it ought to be done in an intentional and deliberative manner that a lame-duck legislature really doesn’t provide for.”

The legislature’s effort to “keep people from lying about their affiliation” on the commission is a good thing, said Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, which opposed Proposal 2 during the 2018 election.

“I think people who supported this or opposed it should be supportive of a measure that enhances transparency and the accountability of the people who serve on the commission.”

The bill will move to the Senate floor next, where it must be approved before it can move to a House committee, the House floor or Gov. Rick Snyder's desk.

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Tue, 12/04/2018 - 9:48pm

VNP says that the bill is a violation of the will of the people by placing constraints means that what VNP really wants is the freedom to load the "independent" commission seats with democrats. And don't tell me that there are safeguards in the system to prevent this. Heck, my history could not align me with either party as I've voted in both parties primaries, even though my political affiliation is far right of Atilla the Hun.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 9:08am

What you said.... The democrats wanted this because they can load the "independents" with NOT. What's a better deal than having apportionment control only when you're in power? Answer: Having control all the time. Sure, there's a bunch of new rules about how minorities must be accomodated, but that' s what they want anyway. We're all (ok, mostly) Americans, just make rectangular districts by pop.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 9:50am

Sigh. Any map will require the approval of at least two of the Republican members of the commission; there's your safeguard against Democratic and "Independents" conspiring against Republicans. For you (and Kevin and Matt) who complain incessantly about Prop 2 so much, you don't seem to understand it. It's almost like you either have no idea how the commission works or are just useless propaganda hacks peddling lies.

Neil Sikora
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 5:41am

“Pavlov said…We want to remove any doubts so the voters have confidence in what they voted for.” This voter has no doubt that he voted to remove politicians like you from the process. If not for politicians performing like this, I would have had confidence in the system. Respect the vote of the people, Senator Pavlov!

Barry LaRue
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 9:32am

I sincerely hope that Governor Snyder doesn't sign any of these lame duck bills. it would burnish his standing in the Ann Arbor community if he doesn't bend to the will of the gerrymandered legislature.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 9:59am

It is FINELY going to court SO any thing that the Nazis do will be un done... and the people that are not brain damaged will see what anti-American that the republicans are!!!

Kevin Grand
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 12:31pm

Why would supporters of an "independent" comission object to making sure that members really are independent?

It's a shame that nothing was introduced to nullify the boundaries if a partisian member does slip through.

It'll be interesting to see what'll happen then.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 2:25pm

What I can say is that if it's something Pavlov is putting forth, then it's bad news for Michigan residents. He's a piece of work who did everything possible to worsen Michigan schools (as the Senate education committee chair). He's a joke and I'm one of his constituents.

Thomas E Graham
Wed, 12/05/2018 - 3:37pm

I don't see how ANYONE can be against this.
There is a term that is vague that could be exploited by either Democrats or Republicans and the Congress has chosen to define the term narrowly and transparently. The people who don't like this are the ones who wanted to exploit the vagueness.
We still have one more election before the census results come out, so I'm not worried.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 4:51pm

Really? are you serious? you must be a Republican. The only vagueness you don't want exploited is the fact you lost the last election.

Wed, 12/05/2018 - 4:46pm

Tony Daunt was defeated, "“I think people who supported this or opposed it should be supportive of a measure that enhances transparency and the accountability of the people who serve on the commission.”

The bill will move to the Senate floor next, where it must be approved before it can move to a House committee, the House floor or Gov. Rick Snyder's desk. He has nothing at all to say about it let alone try to regulate it on the way out the door.