The political action group Voters Not Politicians gave a presentation at Liberty School Monday night outlining their support for the forthcoming Proposal 2 initiative, which will appear on state ballots during the Nov. 6 election.
If passed, Proposal 2 will impart on an independent, citizen-led commission of democrats, republicans and independents the responsibility of drawing district voting lines, rather than the controlling party in the Legislature, bringing to an end the long-standing practice often referred to as gerrymandering. The earliest new boundary maps could go into effect would be 2022, group members said.
How exactly gerrymandering works is described in detail on their website, where it is suggested that allowing politicians to draw their own district voting lines represents and unfair advantage that lasts 10 years for each go-round.
The two primary components of the process are referred to as “cracking and packing”
“If a party feels threatened by high densities of voters that fall into certain demographics or political ideologies, they can crack them apart to spread out their voting power,” according to the group. “Politicians can also pack voters from the other party into a few districts. While this gives the other party a couple districts, it keeps the other districts safe. This allows them to choose their voters instead of voters choosing them."
The governor could veto the proposed voting districts, but when the same party controls both the Legislature and executive office it is not as likely to happen.
Voters Not Politicians representative Rodger Park said in the age of social media, targeted advertising and big data, the consolidation of power has become that much more effective as a political weapon.
“If you use Facebook or social media you’re, kind of, sometimes shocked at the things that get served up to you at being very specific to you when they’re trying to sell you something,” he said, noting, “they (politicians) have the same technology for deciding what congressional district you should sit in.”
While a handful of states have already moved away from gerrymandering, Park said Michigan remains on the very opposite end of that scale.
“There were some studies recently done that looked at gerrymandering across the United States,” he said. “Michigan rated as one of the most extremely gerrymandered states in the country.”
Both predominant political parties use gerrymandering for political advantage, Park said.
“In Michigan right now, the problem is largely driven by republican control of the state legislature during the 2010 census,” he said. “In other states it can be the democrats, particularly Maryland. Maryland is infamously gerrymandered in favor of the democratic party.”
Ending gerrymandering, Park said, is a means to make elected officials more accountable to the people they represent.
“When the politicians don’t have to worry about getting out and knocking doors, going to meetings, talking to us about what we want they have more free time to raise money for special interests,” he said. “That becomes their bread and butter in terms of staying in office.”
Lois Maharg was another Voters Not Politicians representative who spoke at the meeting.
While some in attendance questioned aspects of how well the proposed bipartisan commission would function, Maharg said similar scenarios have worked in other states, adding that she believes anything would be better than the system currently in place.
“Our proposal is fair, our redistricting process is fair, because at the end of the day the result of this is that the number of seats each party wins will roughly be determined by the percent of votes statewide that each party gets, thereby making sure that no single party has a disproportionate advantage statewide,” she said. “Our commission will also be impartial. Anybody who has a conflict of interest will not be eligible to serve.”