Truth Squad | A video attacks Michigan redistricting proposal

The Voters Not Politicians proposal would create a commission of citizens responsible for drawing district lines instead of politicians. The Michigan Freedom Fund video contains true, misleading and untrue claims.

New Truth Squad rating categories

Truth Squad has reduced the number of rating categories to the following:

  • FAIR: The ad or statement is generally accurate and fairly and credibly presents the speaker’s position on the issue at hand.     
  • MISLEADING: While individual parts of the ad or statement may be accurate, it reaches a conclusion or leaves an impression about an issue or candidate that is misleading in important respects
  • FOUL: The ad or statement contains one or more material factual errors

Related: Michigan redistricting group brings in whopping $13.9 million
Related: Truth Squad | Scare tactics on Michigan redistricting measure get foul rating

The Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative advocacy organization, promotes an online video, paid for by recently-formed committee Protect My Vote, that asks voters to reject the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative that would make a citizens’ commission responsible for redrawing district lines, instead of the legislature.

It’s packed with claims, some true and some whoppers. As a whole, we give the video a rating of foul. Its litany of claims are broken down below.

1. Voters Not Politicians is an “Obama-backed” group — MISLEADING

Campaign finance reports do not show any disclosed donations from former President Barack Obama or affiliated groups and Obama has not directly endorsed the proposal. However, Obama does support the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which in turn supports VNP.

2. It would give the job of drawing your (state) house, senate and (U.S.) congressional district maps to a commission of unelected liberals — FOUL

Yes, it would give the job to an unelected commission, but at least four would be Republicans, four others would be Democrats, and five would be Independents.

Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, wrote in an email to Bridge, “the proposal says a lot of things but the only ‘proof’ that someone will be a Republican (or Democrat or Independent) is their self-identification as such.”

Perhaps, but that hardly ensures all commissioners would be liberal. It also ignores a mechanism built in to the ballot proposal that is intended to reduce the appointment of overly-partisan members: House and Senate leadership could strike a small number of commission candidates from the application pool.

3. It would create an unaccountable fourth branch of government — FOUL

This argument was raised before the state Supreme Court. Daunt noted that Chief Justice Stephen Markman wrote exactly this in his dissenting opinion. That’s true (see page 37 of the dissent.)

But the majority of the Court rebuked it. The justices address the issue in depth beginning on page 44 of the opinion. As the syllabus summarizing the decision notes: “VNP’s proposed standards would constitute neither a revolution in redistricting nor a transformation of Michigan’s form or structure of government.”

4. The commission would be created by randomly selecting four Republicans, four Democrats and five Independents — FAIR


5. No elected officials or even precinct delegates could serve. A precinct delegate’s spouse, kids and parents couldn’t serve because they’ve been elected — FAIR

Spot on, at least for six years after the last time they held elected office.

6. Professors and union bosses could serve — FAIR

Anyone could serve that isn’t disqualified by one of several factors.

7. VNP calls themselves independent even though they have a documented history of giving to and running for office as Democrats — FAIR

The Detroit News has reported that VNP board members have donated to Democrats in the past. Walt Sorg used to serve on the group’s Board of Directors, and he has run for office as a Democrat. Only one of the current board members has run for office, and that’s moderate Republican former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz.

8. Their leader flew to NY to party with Hillary on election night 2016 — FAIR

True, according to the Associated Press.

9. You wouldn’t be able to hold your representative, the governor or even the Supreme Court accountable — FOUL

The governor and Supreme Court justices are all elected by statewide vote, so they would not be affected by redistricting reform, making that part of the claim false.

Daunt said his group’s criticism focuses more on the lack of accountability that comes from removing legislators from drawing lines. If they perform that task poorly, he argues, they can be voted from office. “With (the Voters Not Politicians) system, it’s left solely to the commission,” Daunt wrote.

Advocates for redistricting reform counter that keeping politicians in charge of legislative boundaries actually makes it harder to remove incumbents, because they are more likely to gerrymander districts in their favor.

10. The process will be run by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who don’t answer to you — MISLEADING

Daunt wrote that there’s “no process for citizens of this state to remove a member of the commission for malfeasance. That falls only to the other members of the commission.” That’s true — they’d be unelected, so they can’t be voted out by the public if voters don’t like how they drew legislative lines.

But that doesn’t mean they would never answer to the public: The proposal says there must be public hearings and input periods built in to the process of drawing and approving maps, and they’d have to present data to support how maps are drawn. Also, the Michigan Supreme Court and federal courts could review and strike down maps if they’re found unconstitutional.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Thu, 09/06/2018 - 9:22am

I would challenge any opponent to present these arguments to an informed high school government class. I would also them to present the class with ideas on how Proposal 2 could be improved (and explain why the legislature has not taken up the issue in spite of several bills having been introduced).
I also think that you should have given a "misleading" to the claim that professors and union bosses could serve on the commission. The intent clearly is to mislead, not to enlighten or inform. CEOs, accountants, physicians, retirees, etc. can all serve. Given that the overwhelming majority of citizens could serve on the commission, singling out these two groups is clearly waving the bloody shirt and serves no purpose except to incite.

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 10:13am

Agree 100% Zooman

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 8:44am

Well said. The high school (even middle school ) students I have talked with see the obvious conflict of interest in the current system.

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 11:22am

Really? You're impressed with the opinions of high school and middle school students? What isn't "obvious" to those who haven't really lived life as a tax-payer, a family head, as someone with years of schooling perhaps, and years in the job market! Not an argument I find convincing in any way.

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 9:40am

If you are not going to correctly use your new bucket labels, then it won't matter. For example, "1. Voters Not Politicians is an “Obama-backed” group — MISLEADING" But you note, "Obama has not directly endorsed the proposal." So, actually, the statement is not just "misleading", it is proven "FALSE" by your own words. Using Obama's support for a different organization (albeit one that that supports VNP) to claim that therefore Obama kinda supports VNP is the definition of MISLEADING. Oy veh. Stop trying to be nice and just be direct and clear with the facts and analysis.

David Zeman, Br...
Thu, 09/06/2018 - 1:33pm

Ha, I think the political class would contest your conclusion that we've been too nice at Truth Squad. Misleading seemed the right call for this particular statement because Obama HAS endorsed efforts like the proposal in Michigan, so there is a little something for this video to hang its charge on, it's just that the phrase it used was...well, misleading.
David Zeman
Bridge Editor

Daniel Rubenstein
Thu, 09/06/2018 - 9:46pm

"Backed" usually means money. Have either Obama or the DNRC doanted to VNP? If not, you should have labelled the claim Foul.

Also, the implication "backed" means "biased towards." The falseness of this is contained in the content and logic of the proposal itself. It is clearly nonpartisan.

Yi-Li Wu
Fri, 09/07/2018 - 7:45am

Your assessment of the false Obama claim should also have acknowledged the fact that Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has been publicly promoting and fundraising for VNP and three other citizen-led redistricting movements around the country. The Obama claim attempts to paint redistricting reform as something driven only by Democrats. The TRUTH is that there is broad bipartisan recognition that the system is broken. Just ask the GOP in Maryland, for example, a state with grotesque gerrymandering by Democrats.

Bob Dunn
Thu, 09/06/2018 - 10:20am

For Protect My Vote to lie and mislead people about the ballot proposal is a sad indictment of how far they are willing to go to take the power out of the average citizens' vote. Why would anyone be willing to trust them? They lost in the courts and now are trying to manipulate the people by deception. This causes people to distrust the media.

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 11:56am

Protect My Vote should be called Protect My Republican Majority Gerrymandered districts.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 09/06/2018 - 3:19pm

With the exception to the Pres. B.O. support (he literally dropped off of the political radar for the past several months after the '16 race...even democrats haven't seen him until recently), I found the video to be right on target regarding the democrat party backed VNP proposal.

Exactly whom does The Bridge expect to sign up for such a commission? Your quintessential Joe Sixpack and/or Suzy Homemaker?

When they are told what is required to serve on this commission, how many non-politically active people do you honest think will sign on to attend multiple meetings throughout the state, attend meetings open to the public (what the democrats shamefully did at the Kavanaugh hearings this week should deep-six that notion right there) and actually balance their family time to put forth the time and energy taking input from consultants and lawyers to form political boundaries (do you honestly think that they'll be personally drawing all of the district lines themselves)?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say "not a lot".

The people who end up on the commission will very likely be the people suggested in the above video: Those with a political agenda to advance.

And then when their political leanings are discovered, more than likely after the fact...then what?

There IS NO mechanism to corroborate if they are really an independent.

What happened with Disney and James Gunn is a perfect example. People thought that he was an alright guy until some very inappropriate Tweets he made several years came to light. Once they became aware of them, long after they were posted, Disney wasted no time in showing him the door. Even now, Disney is still trying to figure out how to deal with the fallout from his firing.

Most politicians break their oaths all of the time, why should those wanting to serve on this commission be any different?

How does The Bridge recommend that problem be remedied?

There is no mechanism in the democrat party backed VNP to address this.

Their findings won't be held in abeyance. The commission won't be charged with a do-over.

And when supporters of their work judge-shop to the right person, their flawed work will still be in place for at least a decade.

Is THAT what The Bridge is supporting?

We can definitely do better than that!

Daniel Rubenstein
Thu, 09/06/2018 - 9:49pm

Hard to know where to begin, so many incorrect statements here. Bottom line, even if what you say about average people not wanting to do this is true -- which has not been the case in California -- there is still nothing in the proposal that favors Democrats or Republicans. Period.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 09/07/2018 - 2:17pm

I found it very interesting that you cited California, Mr. Rubenstein.

I did a lookup today of the breakdown of their legislature.

And gosh darn it, would you LOOK at all of those democrats serving in the Assembly (their equivalent of House of Representatives) and Senate. 55 out of 80 members in their Assembly. 26 out of 40 members in their Senate.

Funny how the democrat party back VNP fails to mention that troubling little fact.

Come to mention it, I don't recall seeing The Bridge mention that either.

I believe that you were saying something about the democrat party back VNP NOT favoring democrats?

Fri, 09/07/2018 - 3:51pm

California is mostly democrats:

It's expected that a fair redistricting system would reflect this.

By contrast, the numbers of Michigan Republicans and Democrats are much closer:

And yet Michigan is heavily gerrymandered in favor of Republicans, leading to a disparity between the ratio of Republican to Democrat voters and the ratio of Republican to Democrat representatives:

This disparity is what the Proposal 2 is meant to address.

In case you've forgotten, 20 years ago it was the Democrats who were doing the gerrymandering. Just because Democrats have the most to gain from ending gerrymandering at this moment doesn't mean that Prop 2 isn't in every Michigander's best interests.

Kevin Grand
Sat, 09/08/2018 - 12:26pm

"Chicken or the egg"?

The end result of the "leadership" is most telling. 20 years ago I recall something about a "Lost Decade".

More and more people were out of work. Businesses were downsizing and/or shutting down. Lansing's "solution" was to play three-card monte with the state budget (and often not turned in on time...that worked great for Michigan Schools) and to raise the taxes on everyone (remember the "Driver's Responsibility Fee" debacle?). Michiganians couldn't leave our state fast enough...including the former governor (a democrat) who pretty much disappeared in a cloud of dust the second her term ended.

Is that in our best interest as well?

Mon, 09/10/2018 - 12:49pm

I'm voting for Prop 2 because I believe that having fairly drawn districts is preferable to the current system of massive voter disenfranchisement. Your arguments are all over the place but seem to boil down to "Democrats are bad" which is really pretty unrelated to Prop 2. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like what you're saying is that it's so important for Republicans to stay in power that we can't afford to stop gerrymandering. I would contend that's a short-sighted position because it's likely just a matter of time before Democrats are back in power and then gerrymandering will be working against you (again).

Taking the long view, I think that regardless of your political preferences, fairly-drawn districts are preferable to gerrymandered ones.

Tue, 09/11/2018 - 9:19pm

Democrats haven't drawn Michigan's lines in decades. the last time they had control of all the state's branches was 1963

john chastain
Sun, 09/09/2018 - 8:20am

One cannot expect reasoned argument from anyone who sites or links to the alt right nonsense from breitbart. You might as well link to Pravda for a lesson on Russian propaganda. The idea is to end political party dominance of the districting issue. For partisans that’s unacceptable. The republican plutocracy in Michigan paid a lot of money and bought a lot of politicians to gain control and one party dominance . Even a fair and balanced process where money and raw political power doesn’t make the rules isn’t enough. Your argument is specious and lacking merit, much like partisan attacks usually are.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 09/10/2018 - 6:44am

Good point, Mr. Chastain, I should've gone straight to the original source instead...NBC News Capitol Correspondent Kasie Hunt (NBC being noted purveyor of "alt-right nonsense"):

"Democrats plotted coordinated protest strategy over the holiday weekend and all agreed to disrupt and protest the hearing, sources tell me and @frankthorp Dem leader @chuckschumer led a phone call and committee members are executing now"

And just for the record, I floated this idea before, if you want to address political party influence, and it bears bringing up again; Remove ALL party labels and iconography from the ballot. Mixing up the listed order of candidates for each and every office going down the ballot will also make people pause and actually read their ballots.

You'll be surprised what a simple difference like that would make towards getting voters to educate themselves.

Unless you fear educated voters?

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 9:06pm

Bridge's Analysis of this video is FOUL. Period.

Peter Eckstein
Fri, 09/07/2018 - 10:54am

What about the initial animation. An African-American is shown painting the entire map of Michigan blue. First of all, a blatant appeal to white tribalism--nasty, but neither true nor false. Second, it is impossible to create district in MI that would be all blue. The art of gerrymandering is to pack as many of the opposite party's voters into the smallest number of districts, but in a purple state like ours, no party can be distracted to be all one thing or the other. Third, a bi-partisan commission would preclude that kind of gerrymandering.

The animation is disgusting and false.

Andrew D.
Fri, 09/07/2018 - 5:39pm

Yes! I could not believe the pic and folks are commenting on substance? Of course the gerrymandered state lines are race based (in the past the Dems did this too) The picture tells the story of the current state GOP in a nutshell. A disgusting one at that. on the mark Mr. Eckstein!

Geoffrey Owen
Sun, 09/16/2018 - 10:33pm

Gerrymandering exists for the sole purpose of allowing minor representation control legislative seats. It should not be done by either party. It is totally out of control. This needs to be changed. Thanks for taking apart the attack ads. They validate the reason this law needs to be changed.

Doug Niergarth
Mon, 10/22/2018 - 9:17am

The only way any one Party will lose out, in this scenario, is in the realm of projected ideas. If the Party has bad ideas it will show in the polls. This is how elections aught to work. The ground will be leveled with this proposal.
Something I have not seen in the literature is if the lines will be redrawn on a regular basis or once drawn with remain for an indefinite time period.

Mary Fox
Sun, 11/04/2018 - 9:12am

I am SICK of REPUBLICANS AND THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE GERRYMANDERING MY DISTRICT AND STEALING THE IMPACT OF MY VOTE. I want this to end. I think it is totally WRONG for my or anyone else's vote to manipulated. I want NEITHER PARTY to gerrymander. I support this with all my heart.