Michigan voters will decide Nov. 6 whether they’d like to radically change the way state and federal voting district lines are drawn in Michigan. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know about Prop 2 ahead of election day.
BALLOT ISSUE: Proposal 2 (Voters Not Politicians)
Bridge series on ballot issues
Bridge Magazine is providing an in-depth look this week at three statewide ballot proposals Michigan voters will decide Nov. 6.
Throughout this crucial election year, Bridge and the nonprofit Center for Michigan are providing fact-based, data-driven information to voters about the elections for governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and other statewide and legislative offices. This includes ballot initiatives. Our ballot issue coverage began Tuesday continues through Thursday.
Proposal 2 (redistricting)
- Who is funding the fight over a redistricting proposal in Michigan
- 5 concerns about Michigan’s redistricting proposal and what to make of them
- Opinion: Redistricting proposal is confusing and bad for Michigan
- Opinion | Gerrymandering has been ‘weaponized’ in Michigan
- Phil: Michigan’s elections are rigged. Is redistricting proposal the answer?
Proposal 3 (voting access)
- Michigan ballot issues: What to know about Prop 3 (voting rights)
- Prop 3 shows voters’ distrust. But is Michigan Constitution the best remedy?
- Who’s funding Michigan’s voting rights ballot proposal?
Proposal 1 (legalizing recreational marijuana)
- Michigan’s ballot issues: What to know about Prop 1 (recreational pot)
- Who’s funding the fight over recreational marijuana in Michigan?
- Local governments across Michigan vexed over how to handle legal weed
- Pot in the workplace: Prop 1 has Michigan employers flummoxed
- Bridge: 2018 Michigan Facts and Issues Guide
- Bridge: Voter Toolbox
- Bridge/Center for Michigan: Join the 2018 Michigan Truth Tour
WHAT IT WOULD DO: Take the power to draw legislative district lines away from whichever party is in control in Lansing (in recent election cycles that’s been Republicans) and create a commission of citizens responsible for drawing them after each decennial census. The commission would be made up of 13 people self-identified by political affiliation: four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents, who will devise representative maps with the help of consultants and significant public input.
See an example of what you'll see on your ballot below.
WHO'S BEHIND IT: Voters Not Politicians. Founded with a Facebook post in 2016, the group rallied thousands of volunteers to gather more than 400,000 signatures to place it on the November ballot. It’s been endorsed by a variety of advocacy organizations, local leaders and some on the national scene — including former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. State Democratic political leaders are generally in support of it.
WHO'S AGAINST IT: Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, a group backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, opposed the proposal through a lengthy court battle. A conservative advocacy group, The Michigan Freedom Fund, has advertised against it, and the Michigan Oak Initiative sponsored flyers opposing it at the state Republican Party convention in August. State Republican political leaders are largely opposed to it.
Sample of what you'll see on your ballot
WHO’S FUNDING IT: With around $1.6 million raised at the last campaign finance reporting deadline, its largest funders now include the Obama-backed National Democratic Redistricting Committee, Texas-based Action Now Initiative, East Lansing’s Beckwith Constitutional Liberties Fund and the Michigan United Auto Workers. More than half of its funding came from donors giving less than $16,000. VNP reported 16,212 individual contributions.
BENEFITS: Both documents and statistics indicate that Michigan Republicans have successfully gerrymandered districts to their advantage since 2000. The architects of Prop 2 say it is intended to end this practice (and stop Democrats from doing the same if they come to power.) Experts can’t say for certain whether it will have its intended effect, but other states with independent commissions have seen more competitive races after switching their system.
An analysis by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan found there are two big benefits to adopting the proposal: It would increase transparency about how state and congressional lines are drawn and reduce partisan influence in the redistricting process.
There are several defenses against partisanship built into the proposal. To name a few, those with a lot to gain from political influence (such as candidates for office and lobbyists) are excluded from serving; legislative leaders will have a handful of vetos to dole out when commissioners are chosen, and final maps have to be approved by a majority with at least two commissioners from each political bucket. This is a departure from the current process, run by legislators aligned with a political party.
Related: Michigan redistricting group brings in whopping $13.9 million
Related: Maps show how gerrymandering benefitted Michigan Republicans
Related: Emails: Michigan Republicans brag that redistricting ‘protects incumbents’
The proposal also guarantees a significantly more transparent map-making process. The current system allows for maps to be drawn in private and passed fairly quickly with little public input. “Because much of the discussion of redistricting happens behind closed doors, it is difficult to know who is influencing the process,” the Citizens Research Council report said.
Prop 2 would reverse that: All commission meetings, drafts, data and conversations would be public record. Several public hearings would be required before and after maps are drawn and before commissioners vote. The commission’s finances would be subject to a state audit annually.
CONCERNS: The Citizens Research Council report identified three major downsides to the proposal: Voters could not remove commissioners from their position and the revamped redistricting process would likely be both slower and more expensive than the current system.
Commissioners would not be elected by the public. The only way an eligible commissioner could be removed from office is by a vote of 10 of their 12 peers (so, all but two of their fellow commissioners). “As a result, there is a question of what constitutes accountability for commissioners,” the report concluded.
Using an independent commission to draw maps would also probably cost more. The state appropriated $878,000 for redistricting in 2011, not including legal costs to defend the maps. In comparison, Prop 2 would result in an estimated $4.6 million appropriation annually.
The Citizens Research Council’s analysis of Arizona’s and California’s commissions costs indicate it might take more than that depending on how frequently the maps are challenged in court. The state would be required to reimburse the commission for any funds used beyond what was appropriated.
Another big concern of opponents to Prop 2 is the ambiguity of political self-identification. Those applying to become commissioners have to swear to their political affiliation under threat of perjury, but even independent voters tend to lean one way or another. Several safeguards in the proposal are intended to protect against heavily partisan maps, such as requiring a majority vote that includes at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two independents to approve a map. However, there is no way to guarantee the commission remains free completely free of partisan politics.
DEM. GOVERNOR CANDIDATE GRETCHEN WHITMER’S TAKE: “I’m a yes vote. I support the Voters Not Politicians ballot proposal to create an independent citizens redistricting commission. Michiganders deserve to choose who their elected officials are, not the other way around. In 2005, I co-sponsored legislation to create an independent redistricting commission. Michigan has some of the worst gerrymandered elections maps in the nation, and I knew it back then, and I still believe now that we need an independent redistricting commission to oversee the process – so every vote counts and we have a government that represents the people of our state,” Whitmer told Bridge via email.
GOP GOVERNOR CANDIDATE BILL SCHUETTE’S TAKE: Schuette told Bridge in a recent interview he will be voting no. “We have standards in place that Republicans and Democrats and courts have ruled on in the past, I think that’s a far better approach.”
FUN FACT: Four other states — Colorado, Ohio, Missouri and Utah — will also consider initiatives this fall that would change their redistricting system.
FOR MORE INFO:
- Bridge Magazine’s step-by-step explanation of how the independent commission would work if approved.
- More information on the way Michigan’s voting district lines were drawn last time and what the resulting maps look like.
- The Citizen Research Council of Michigan’s analysis of Prop 2.
- A Brennan Center for Justice analysis of biased maps nationwide, with some data on how independent commissions in other states are performing.
- The state Senate Fiscal Agency's analysis of the fiscal impact of Prop 2 and the state House Fiscal Agency's analysis.
- What opponents have to say about why they think Prop 2 is a bad idea.
- Editorials from the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Detroit Free Press in support of Prop 2.
- Commentary from Tony Daunt of the Michigan Freedom Fund, Rich Studley of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Jamie Roe of Grand River Strategies in opposition of Prop 2.
- Listen to an audio story about the Voters Not Politicians volunteer effort. Bridge followed one canvasser as he made the pitch.
- Why can’t Michigan just use an algorithm to end gerrymandering? Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, explains why in a guest commentary for Bridge.