By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Michigan will have new election district maps by 2021 after voters overwhelmingly supported a redistricting reform proposal in the Nov. 6 election.
Prior to and since the election, the Voters Not Politicians organization has been hosting state-wide town halls to inform people on redistricting and gerrymandering including one March 28 at Henry Ford Centennial Library, 16301 Michigan Ave.
The organization began seeking an end to partisan gerrymandering in Michigan following the 2017 election when Voters Not Politicians Executive Director Katie Fahey asked in a Facebook post if anyone wanted to help her address the issue. VNP volunteers collected 425,000 signatures in order to put the proposal on he 2018 ballot.
“When the Legislature draws the election maps, they are drawing what districts voters must vote in,” the VNP website said. “This allows them to choose their voters, instead of voters choosing them. This allows politicians to manipulate elections to give them and their party an advantage for the next decade of elections. And, if one party is still in power 10 years later, they get to manipulate the next set of elections for the next decade again.”
Wayne State University Political Science Associate Professor and Voters Not Politicians Volunteer Kevin Deegan-Krause explained that with 61 percent of the vote, Michigan voters put the power to draw future election district maps in their hands instead of politicians’.
“During the campaign, we showed district maps made of Lego blocks to voters as a teaching tool and a lot people recognized the funny shapes including one of the Michigan 14th Congressional District,” he said. “This gerrymandering issue is something that I care about, and as a result of the redistricting reform amendment want to see a map that looks a lot better.
“Voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around as we have seen in the long history of Michigan politics.”
The entire process to make sure the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is implemented fairly when Michigan maps are drawn has become a mission for VNP.
To serve on the commission, a person must be a registered Michigan voter, but cannot be a candidate or elected official of partisan office, consultant or employee of a partisan politician or PAC, employee of the Legislature or political appointee, registered lobbyist or employee of a lobbying firm, leader of a political party, or immediate family member of any of the above.
In January, applications will be open and available to any registered Michigan voter, and the Secretary of State will mail applications to a minimum of 10,000 randomly selected Michigan voters.
Next, the SOS will collect and verify each application meets the necessary requirements, and disqualify elected officials, lobbyists or other political influences, according to the VNP website. Applications will be weighted to allow random selection while helping the pool of applications match Michigan’s geographic and demographic as closely as possible, the website stated.
From the weighted applications, 200 applications randomly will be selected with half from the open applications and half from the mailed SOS invitations. Each of the 100 applications on both sides will have 30 Republicans, 30 Democrats and 40 unaffiliated.
Majority and monitory party leaders of the Legislature — four total — will be given up to five strikes each allowing them to remove any application they deem as problematic.
All of the remaining 180 applications will be split into three pools of Democrat, Republican and unaffiliated as identified by applicants themselves. Lastly, 13 applications randomly will be chosen with four Republicans, four Democrats and five unaffiliated to create the commission.
The entire selection process is scheduled to take place from June after applications close through September, but first on April 1, 2020, Census Day takes place in order to collect information on and count every resident in the United States. In October 2020, the commission will start its work and await data results from the census which is expected in February 2021.
From February to November the commission will hold at least 10 public hearings before drafting map plans and at least five public hearings to gather public feedback on proposed plans. In November, the commission will adopt final maps and by the August 2022 and November 2022 elections new maps will be used for the first time.
The maps must be approved by a majority of the commission, including two members from each major party and two unaffiliated members, according to the VNP website.
In order to have the maps approved, the commission must follow the federal requirements and Voting Rights Act; be contiguous, meaning that a district cannot be physically disconnected at any point; hold a series of public hearings to get feedback from Michigan residents about their shared values; not favor a party, incumbent or candidate; consider existing political boundaries when drawing maps; and draw districts that are reasonably compact.
To learn more about the commission, redistricting and gerrymandering in Michigan or VNP go to www.votersnotpoliticians.com.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)