Michigan gerrymandering petition on pace for ballot. Will state justices stop it?


A petition drive to take the drawing of legislative districts away from politicians is on pace to get on the Michigan ballot in 2018.

A quarter-million people have already signed petitions to put a proposal on the 2018 ballot intended to end partisan gerrymandering in Michigan.

But the fate of the effort to create an independent commission to draw political district boundaries may rest with just seven people – the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Veteran GOP attorney Bob LaBrant said he expects those opposed to creating an independent commission, which includes the Michigan Republican Party, will seek to challenge the ballot initiative in court; in essence, by trying to kill it before 2018 voters get a chance to say yes or no. Such a case likely would end up in front of the Michigan Supreme Court, where justices officially are nonpartisan, but are nominated by Republican and Democratic state conventions. Republicans hold a 5-2 majority on the high court.

The proposed ballot language would change the Michigan Constitution to take the power to draw political boundaries away from the Legislature and give that power to a commission made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five people unaffiliated with either party. For new district boundaries to be accepted, the majority of the 13 commission members must vote for it, including at least two Republicans and two Democrats and two unaffiliated members.

MORE COVERAGE: California holds clues to how a redistricting commission could change Michigan

You can read the proposed changes to the Constitution here.

Boundaries for state House and Senate districts and U.S. Congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years after each U.S. Census. In Michigan as in the majority of states politicians are currently in charge of redrawing those maps. The party in charge of the Legislature and the governor’s office can, and typically do, draw maps that help their party win more seats in the Legislature and Congress. That tactic, which typically involves packing minority party voters into as few districts as possible, is called gerrymandering.

By one standard, Michigan has some of the most gerrymandered districts in the nation.

For example, in 2016 Michigan voters actually cast more ballots overall for Democratic candidates for the state legislature than Republican candidates, yet Republicans won 63 of 110 seats.

Voters Not Politicians was formed this year in Michigan to try to make redistricting in the state less partisan, depending on which party is in power, by creating an independent redistricting commission, similar to commissions that exist in eight states.

A volunteer army of about 3,000 Michigan residents have collected more than 250,000 signatures of registered voters in two months, according to Katie Fahey, president of Voters Not Politicians. The group needs to collect about 316,000 valid signatures by early February.

“We’ve had people drive an hour to get to a location where they know a volunteer is collecting signatures,” Fahey said. “We’ve had lines of people waiting to sign.”

Because some signatures typically are thrown out, the group needs to collect perhaps 100,000 more than the minimum to be safe. Still, Fahey and LaBrant agree the effort is on pace to reach its goal, even with all volunteer workers. Typically, backers of ballot proposals resort to hiring signature gatherers to help collect names.

“I suspect they will collect enough signatures to make it onto the ballot,” LaBrant said.

MORE COVERAGE: Gerrymandering in Michigan is among the nation’s worst, new test claims

LaBrant, who is involved in GOP efforts to stop the ballot proposal, admits that the anti-establishment, drain-the-swamp mood of the electorate could make a proposal that takes power away from politicians seem attractive to voters.

While saying he doesn’t “want to give away my strategy,” LaBrant said he believes the proposal could be struck down by courts on the basis that it “isn’t a change in the (state) Constitution,” but a “general revision of the Constitution that would require a Constitutional Convention.” In essence, a ballot proposal can only tweak a specific section of the Constitution, not make wholesale changes over broad areas.

LaBrant pointed to a successful court effort he led to strike down the “Reform Michigan Government Now” ballot proposal in 2008, a proposal that would have radically reformed state government in areas ranging from trimming the number of Supreme Court justices to redistricting. That proposal enjoyed 70 percent support among the public, but was struck down in court based on the same constitutional argument LaBrant is proposing with the current petition drive to change how legislative districts are drawn. LaBrant called defeat of Reform Michigan Government Now  “the most satisfying victory of my career.”

"The RMGN initiative petition is overarching, of a reach and expanse never before seen of any constitutional initiative in Michigan's long history," a unanimous Michigan Court of Appeals ruled at the time. "It proposes fundamentally to redesign the very framework of the Michigan Constitution of 1963."

For now Fahey is focused on the battle in front of her, collecting signatures. “The important thing is that the people of Michigan are driving the campaign,” Fahey said. “Just let the people decide for themselves whether they want to vote on this issue.”

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John Q. Public
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 7:15am

This is an other example of the voters "holding politicians accountable" that Michigan Republicans love to tout as a precursor to using their rigged political processes to thwart the will of the people.

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 5:58pm

You seem to realize that 'gerrymandering' has been in place longer than any person alive today and both Parties have been in the majority at one time or another and both have practiced it use. If anything each Party has learned from the other to manipulate the system.
If you want to have any accountability for politicians than you need to start a conversation about what are the criteria to use went assessing candidates, because until we have a common set of criteria to use for choosing who to vote for we will leave it to emotions and the negative campaign, and no matter what system is used for districting government will continue to fail to improve results and solve problems.

Old State
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 2:05pm

I've been around a lot longer than you. And I can tell you categorically you are wrong. At one time parties cooperated by anf large. There may have been areas of disagreement, but they did in fact create reasonable maps and districts. They worked together. They feared judiciak reprisal so they kept fairness in thier minds.

And then things started to change when the so-called Moral Majority took over. Then it was all about winning. All about partisanship, win-at-any-cost...and it's disgusting. So no, this isn't about both parties being equally morally reprehensible. And one time both of them were fairly moral especially by our standards. Now it's a GOP mired swamp you support them by creating false moral equivalence.

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 4:25pm

I am not sure what you find so wrong. The issue isn't collaboration, but 'gerrymandering'. The partisanship has been in place for generations, it has been about partisan maneuvering and to the political 'koos' long before I was born and I suspect even you were born.

I wonder how old you are, if you look backed you would have found that from 1974 thru 1984 the Democrats had the majority both in the Senate and House in Lansing, that would suggest that the Democrats did have control of redistricting. And since they had since lost the majorities it might lead one to believe that 'gerrymandering' doesn't assure retention of political power. Similarly the Republicans had the majorities prior to the Democrats 10 years of control and that did not prevent the Democrats from taking control, reinforcing the idea that 'gerrymandering' does assure anything for a Party.

Again not sure how far back you memory goes, but reality is that as primary voting was opened up to more than the Party members the discord grew. Prior to that there were the 'power brokers' and they would bargain behind closed doors to position both party loyalists and opposition such that they would present well at election time to keep things smooth in Lansing. The change happened when individual candidates found that they could circumvent the party 'leaders' and appeal to the most avid voters. The other factor in this change was the availability and impact of media coverage, the more extreme the antics the more visibility, the more appeal to the extreme voters. Consider late 1960s, it became more about tactics/extreme actions than about results.
The more extreme the voters they gravitate to the candidate that is the most confrontation with little regard for results. If we want to change that tide of emotion driven extremes then we need to help the rest of the voting population to be able to evaluate candidates based on knowledge and skills and results than trying to exploit emotions.
As for the morality of the GOP or the Dems, you have probably lived a sheltered life. Only people are moral or immoral not organizations, only people make choices not organizations, for all organizations are made up of and actions take by people. A person decides for themselves whether they will be corrupted and corrupt the system not a Party. If there is a facilitating factor is will be the people that want what the immoral person will provide them. Using the most current case of Harvey W., by all accounts his abuses were well known but few stood up to make it public and try to denounce him. It was not an organization that facilitated his long run as an immoral person but those that he paid/donated to.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 9:11am

If the special interests funded by the Greed Over People party continue to override what We The People want, they will create worse conditions for the citizens of Michigan.

The fact our legislature changed the laws so any bill with funding attached can't be overridden by a ballot initiative is enough to tell you that they only care about themselves and their ability to play with us like puppets on strings for their amusement. Despicable.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 9:15am

It would be nice to know the political make up of Voters Not Politicians, the 3000 volunteers collecting signatures, and even the leanings of those signing the petition. If everything is about proportional to the voters in Michigan, then it could be considered a legitimate petition. If it strongly leans toward one party, then it could be considered an illegitimate power grab and worse, an illegitimate alteration of the constitution. Because of recent outcomes in voting, I suspect the leanings of the petitioner, the volunteers, and perhaps even the signers tends to be heavily democratic. Nothing that leans heavily right or left should be allowed to alter the Michigan Constitution, especially by such a small minority where 3.5% of the population could decide such a drastic measure.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 9:48am

I think the proposal should be judged on it's own merit, not on the basis of whether one party is more inclined to favor it. I encourage people to read it and decide if it is partisan or not. Also, it will need the majority of voters to pass, not just 3.5% of the population, which is needed to get it on the ballot.

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 10:13am

The proposal is 8 pages long and written in legal jargon. No one is going to read it.

Josh DeVries
Wed, 10/25/2017 - 10:50pm

All laws are written in legal jargon. There are plenty of adequate summaries of the law, with clear explanations all over the internet.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 9:53am

The leanings of the group members have nothing to do with the proposed change. Both parties gerrymandering to stay in power, that's why we need an independent commission.

Norman Hyman
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:13pm

And that's why the amendment should be approved.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 4:52pm


Mon, 10/23/2017 - 3:25pm

In theory this may sound plausible, but it seems that both Parties have had the majority when redistricting and yet both have lost the majority in spite of 'gerrymandering.'
That suggests that theory doesn't survive reality. So which should we use to make our decisions on, your theory or reality?

Jon Crabtree
Wed, 10/25/2017 - 10:52pm

This is like saying Michael Jordan can't be the greatest of all time because he didn't win every game.

Thu, 10/26/2017 - 7:59pm

I have to admit to my limited capacities to relate all the games Michael Jordan played to 5 elections over 10 years of redistricting. Especially, when the current claim against 'gerrymandering' is that it is so powerful that it sustains a Party in power.
Either the theory works or there is an inclusion of why it doesn't work when the Democrats are in power. Either the voters can choose who they want or the Party in power controls the vote counts. I don't accept the theory because the exception demonstrate it fails for both Parties [especially with term limits and open primaries].
I believe that the voters make their choices in secret without the control of the Party in power and if they don't like who is representing the Party in power they will [quietly] vote for the other Party representative. In my life time that has occurred at least twice, when the Republicans lost control of the both the Senate and the House in 1974 and when the Democrats lost them in1984. And I have been ignoring the loss of majority of either chamber [even though both chambers have their districts redrawn and have 'gerrymandering'] when the other chamber's majority is retained by the Party that did the redistricting.
Though, using your MJ analogy it would reinforce my view on 'gerrymandering'. Jordan had his off game or games and so can a Party that applied the 'gerrymandering' tool have their off 'game' in who they had/have representing them on the ballot and the voters decide for that election they loss the 'game' and in this case they loss control in Lansing.
As long as voters have shown that each Party can have an off election that leaves me to believe that 'gerrymandering' isn't all powerful and does not prevent the will of the people being applied at the ballot box in spite of who is in power.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 9:58am

This is a strawman argument. The leanings of individuals have no bearing on the issue, because both parties gerrymander to stay in power. I think the better question is who is motivated to make real change and not just talk about it.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 4:54pm

Funny but I guess we can all guess what party 'Rich' represents....

Ford Prefect
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:13am

That's not how it works. If the proposal is fair and addresses an accountability problem in the system (the ability of EITHER PARTY to gerrymander), the political makeup of the organization and signers should be irrelevant. Evaluate the proposal on its merits, not the political makeup of the organization or signers. The idea that there needs to be some proportionality of support in order for a proposal to have merit is illogical.

BTW, several prominent republicans support redistricting reform (McCain, Schwarzanegger, Dole). SOME in the MI GOP doesn't support it specifically because it will make them more accountable to voters.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:18am

I know that both Republicans and Democrats sign it, because Republicans are sick of having extremists take over their party and do things like this. Most Republicans and Democrats agree that elections should be fair.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:33am

"especially by such a small minority where 3.5% of the population could decide such a drastic measure."
3.5% of people decide nothing. That's the threshold of minimum support for the measure to put the proposal on the ballot for the people at large to vote on it, where it will need a majority of votes cast to be enacted.

"If it strongly leans toward one party, then it could be considered an illegitimate power grab and worse, an illegitimate alteration of the constitution."
How can something that follows the democratic process and is approved by a majority of the population be an illegitimate power grab?

"Because of recent outcomes in voting,"
Where democratic candidates won >50% of the vote and only 35% of the races? And you're saying that *this* is illegitimate?

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:57am

It would still have to be on the ballot in November 2018 for all voters to weigh in on. Doesn’t matter what the political leanings of the petitioners are.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 11:46am

Rich, I suspect that the supporters of this petition probably do lean left politically, but why should political affiliation of a group of voters make their efforts "illegitimate"? Getting these signatures doesn't in and of itself change the Michigan Constitution, only places it on the 2018 ballot for all voters who show up to the polls to decide.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 11:51am

It's an issue worth reading about, and one that will likely make its way to the US Supreme Court as well. New methods of quantifying the effects of gerrymandering expose that Michigan's districts unfairly favor one party over the other. Right now that is Republicans, but if by some stretch Dems take over the Legislature in 2020 and cement an advantage for the next decade for their party in all elections, wouldn't you wish there was some reform of that redistricting system?

Sun, 10/22/2017 - 7:59pm

In 1990 it was Republicans complaining about Gerrymandering. And the US Supreme Court is already considering a Wisconsin Gerrymandering case

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 12:52pm

I have been involved in this campaign since January. I may be partisan in some areas, but I am totally non-partisan when it comes to elections. If indeed the supporters of this proposal intended partisan advantage, it would be easy to identify that in the language of the proposed constitutional amendment. I defy anyone to identify anything in the proposal that is in any way partisan.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 2:58pm

Does this initiative lean toward one party? Not in the way that you think. It will always have a benefit to the party not in power. Especially in today's world where gerrymandering can be highly enhanced with computer algorithms. In 2022 leaving gerrymandering in place Republicans could very well be the beneficiaries. At the moment they are betting Democrats will falter in the next 2 elections. That could be but I would not count on it, given the current politics. The other misunderstanding is that 3.5% of the Michigan population cannot determine the outcome. The signatures which make up at least 10% of the voters that voted in 2016 can only get it on the ballot. All the voters will have a choice to vote for or against in November 2018. It is not fair that one party with a minority of the votes can control the government. That is not a Democracy.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:25pm

They are proposing a non partisan committee made up of 4 republicans, 4 democrats, and 4 independents.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 6:06pm

Actually, it's 5 "independents" -- but the other five parties on the ballot are going to have to struggle to find active supporters who are eligible to participate, even if they're not among those peremptorily disqualified by the leaders of the Titanic Two in each chamber of the Legislature. (I'm a Green myself, but it's the Libertarians who will probably have it the roughest -- since the thousands of precinct delegates they'll have to nominate to avoid being taken over won't be eligible.)

Jon Vander
Fri, 10/20/2017 - 12:45pm

Precinct delegates are not excluded by the final language of the petition being circulated. This was a rumor that started before the ballot petition language was finalized.

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 5:35am

No one is trying to "grab" power. Those who gerrymander districts are the power grabbers. If you are happy with that, then you are "OK" with rigged systems. What level of gerrymandering are you uncomfortable with?

Doug Moiles
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 9:28am

Where can I sign?

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:28pm

If you go to their website VNOTP.com, they will post events where you can sign. Usually out
side of the Farmers Market, Post Office, Library. etc. There is alot of good information on the site as well.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 9:47am

The state supreme court is not non-partisan. The republicans hold a 5-2 majority. If it gets to the supreme court, the ballot issue will be shut down. We have the best court that money can buy.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 11:59am

How sad that Mr. LaBrant's proudest moment is defeating the wishes of 70% of state voters. Maybe he needs to reconsider why he is in office.

Julie Ortiz
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:39pm


Jon Vander
Fri, 10/20/2017 - 12:46pm

He doesn't hold office, he is just the guy standing in the corner of every smoke filled room.

Old State
Mon, 10/23/2017 - 2:11pm

He's not. He's a GOP hack strategist and he always has been. He's incredibly effective and incredibly rich from it. He feeds off of GOP party donations. He is friends with the DeVos', with the Prince's with all the GOP names. And he will stop at nothing. He has no shame.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 12:59pm

RMGN isn't exactly a good comparison due to the fact that unlike the Voters not Politicians petition which deals with strictly one issue (gerrymandering), RMGN attempted to address multiple ones simultaneously.

That issue was so complex, not only did it have a difficult time meeting the word criteria to be placed on the ballot, but even proponents had a difficult time explaining EXACTLY what it did to Michigan Voters.

A closer comparison would be something like the Michigan Marriage Amendment (Prop 2 of 2004) which Michigan Voters approved by an almost 700k vote margin, only to have activist Judges (like Bernard Friedman who actually encouraged the plaintiffs to file their legal challenge...which he eventually ruled in favor of), or the Michigan Medical Marijuana Initiative (Prop 1 of 2008) which Michigan Voters approved by almost 1.3-million votes which got bogged down by politicians and yet even more activist judges who needed to "clarify" the matter.

Having one person essentially telling a majority of voters that their opinion doesn't matter simply because they don't wear a black robe should be disturbing to All Americans.

Unfortunately, Mr. LaBrant is right on the outcome, but for all the wrong reasons.

Activist judges are the real problem here. And I can very easily see one essentially telling Michigan Voters what we can go and do with ourselves (again).

Which is ironic considering that our government derives its authority from the consent of the governed.

That right there alone should greatly disturbed anyone who reads this.

Michigan Observer
Fri, 10/20/2017 - 10:41pm

Mr. Grand says, "Having one person essentially telling a majority of voters that their opinion doesn't matter simply because they don't wear a black robe should be disturbing to All Americans." If the opinion of the majority is in violation of the constitution, isn't it proper for judges in black robes to say so?

Kevin Grand
Sun, 10/22/2017 - 11:22am

There are two glaring problems with your argument that you have overlooked.

The powers of the federal government are few and defined. Those who wrote our Constitution even said so when arguing for its ratification.

NOWHERE in the US Constitution does it grant the federal government the authority to define what marriage means.

Going even further, the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution says that the powers NOT granted to the federal government belong solely to the states.

So, for a federal judge to tell someone to file a case in his court and then subsequently rules in favor of it (rather than recusing themselves), if THAT doesn't fall under the definition of an activist judge, I don't know what will.

Kevin in Waterford
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 1:20pm

The battle is to simply put a measure before the voters — yet the obstructionists try to prevent the voters from having a choice.
When the media report on this, they cry bloody murder about bias.
I want a representative democracy, not what we have today.

Julie Ortiz
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 3:30pm

Check out the website at VNOTP.COM. It is very informative.

Shelley Cichy
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 4:20pm

It’s amazing that LaBrant and others opposed to this change are so blatant about wanting to keep a system that’s entirely at odds with fairness and transparency. Party over democracy, I guess.

Thu, 10/19/2017 - 4:56pm

The constitutional amendment proposed by this petition will disenfranchise rural people and the entire Upper Peninsula by removing the guarantee of providing at least one state Senator for every county. Instead, the proposal requires that all districts in both houses will have the same proportion of the state population as every other dstrict, within a very small percentage. We already over-represent Metro Detroit (and the Democrats) on every state-wide ballot question. We shouldn't extend the tyranny of the majority to our entire political system in this state.

Michigan Observer
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 8:05pm

I hate to disagree with Anna because she is generally very well informed and logical, but in this case I believe she is mistaken. Michigan, unlike the nation, is not a federation of lesser units of government. State senators represent people, not counties. And, to the best of my knowledge, all districts are currently required to " have the same proportion of the state population as every other district, within a very small percentage. " The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that to be the case for Congressional districts, and, I think, for state districts as well.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 10/20/2017 - 12:54pm

Actually, she 100% correct regarding the history behind this (and its outcome).

The legislative structure of our state government was set up to mostly mirror the Connecticut Compromise which defined the structure on the federal level. Its model of a bicameral legislature was copied as a check and balance on the introduction and passage of legislation to prevent large population centers from having too much control.

Activist judges on SCOTUS, via Reynolds v. Sims, turned nearly 200 years of historical precedent and tradition on its head. The obvious fact that they did not want to touch how Senators are elected in Washington should tell you on much their decision was on shaky ground and didn't want to overreach with their ruling.

We've already seen what happens when cities like Detroit cannot govern themselves.

Why replicate that on a state level?

Do we really want to look like California & Illinois?

Michigan Observer
Fri, 10/20/2017 - 11:32pm

Mr. Grand is correct when he says, " Its model of a bicameral legislature was copied as a check and balance on the introduction and passage of legislation to prevent large population centers from having too much control." There was fear that the urban masses would support and pass legislation that would confiscate wealth from the upper classes. But it was carried to absurd lengths. Wikipedia says: In the Connecticut General Assembly, one House district had 191 people. In the Vermont General Assembly, the smallest district had 36 people, the largest 35,000. Los Angeles County, California, then with six million people, had one member in the California State Senate, as did the 14,000 people of one rural county.
The court was right to require one man, one vote.