BY AJ Trager
LANSING – State Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo, and State Rep. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, are introducing proposals to help end gerrymandering by creating a nonpartisan commission that would oversee the drawing of political boundaries. Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing district lines to favor one political party, individual or constituency.
The proposals come in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that found similar nonpartisan commissions in other states constitutionally valid.
“Our democracy needs to be more responsive to voters. Voters sense the process is broken. Let’s fix it,” Hoadley said. “Voters should select their politicians rather than politicians picking which voters they want in their district. In setting up a nonpartisan commission, we would be taking the politics out of redistricting.”
The bills call for the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission comprised of regular citizens who would be tasked with creating district maps that are constitutional, compliant with the Voting Rights Act, contiguous, geographically relevant, compact, nested and not drawn to protect incumbents.
“In a healthy democracy, voters pick their elected representatives. Gerrymandering turns that on its head by allowing politicians to pick their voters,” Moss said. “That’s not right, no matter which party is in charge. I urge my colleagues to back our plan to make Michigan politics more responsive to people. This is government by the people, for the people and of the people.”
Michigan is comprised of 38 state Senate districts and 110 state House districts. State legislative and congressional maps are redrawn every 10 years and are meant to keep up with changing populations. Michigan has lost five congressional seats since the 1980 U.S. Census. Federal law stipulates that all districts, state or congressional, must have approximately the same population and must not dilute the voter power of racial or ethnic minority groups.
However, there are conflicting opinions. According to ballotpedia.org – a nonprofit, nonpartisan collaborative encyclopedia designed to connect people to politics and elections at the local, state and federal level – redistricting is a fiercely contested issue due to gerrymandering.
Political parties or incumbents are said to draw district lines for their benefit at the expense of proportionality and fair representation, ballotpedia reports, and are sometimes drawn to minimize the influence of minority voters.
In the 2014 election, roughly 51 percent of all votes cast for state House Democratic candidates resulted in only 43 percent of elected House seats. Republican candidates received roughly 48 percent of the votes, which resulted in 63 Republican House seats, or 57 percent of elected seats, according to macombpolitics.blogspot.com, a blog run by Macomb Daily journalist, Chad Selweski.
Respectively in the state Senate, Democratic candidates received 11 seats with 49 percent of the vote and Senate Republican candidates resulted in 27 seats with 50 percent of the vote. Republicans control the state House, 63-47, with the current way districts are drawn and hold a supermajority in the state Senate at 27-11.
The U.S. Constitution does not determine state legislative redistricting. SCOTUS issued a series of rulings in the mid-1960s to clarify standards for state legislative redistricting, in which it found that “the Equal Protection Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races.”
Michigan’s maps were redrawn in 2011. Both parties, Democrats and Republicans, have been accused of gerrymandering state and congressional seats.