This Election Day, Michiganders will vote on Proposal 2, deciding whether to amend the state constitution by establishing an independent body of citizens to draw legislative borders.
Currently, Michigan’s congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years by the majority political party in the state legislature.
“I think gerrymandering, or the manipulation of district lines by politicians in favor of their political interests, has eroded our basic sense of representation,” said Katy Fahey, the founder and executive director of Voters Not Politicians, the organization that created the proposal. “Somewhere around 90 percent of our statewide elections are non-competitive.”
If passed, Proposal 2 will transfer the power of drawing legislative districts away from politicians to an independent commission of 13 citizens randomly selected by the Secretary of State. The commission would be comprised of four Democrats, four Republicans and five Independents, according to the proposal.
The proposal calls for commissioners to draw geographically compact districts of equal population “reflecting Michigan’s diverse population and communities of interest.” Proposal 2 also states, “Districts shall not provide disproportionate advantage to political parties or candidates.”
Tony Daunt — director of Michigan Freedom Fund, a non-profit right-wing advocacy group —said the bill goes too far in its effort to amend the state’s constitution, its goals and language are too complex and the bill may come with unintended consequences.
“While I think we should have a conversation about redistricting and the way we do it, my overall concern is this particular bill itself,” Daunt said. “I think the founders who set up our system saw the dangers inherent in direct democracy run amok, with the tyranny of the majority and things of that nature, and I worry about the modern conceit that we can do things better.”
Daunt said he is apprehensive about the proposal’s potential cost to taxpayers due to the fact that the ballot measure requires a minimum of 25 percent of the Secretary of State’s budget, with no maximum cap.
“We talk about protecting voters from politicians, but what about protecting taxpayers from the commission?” Daunt said. “Without a maximum, what’s stopping the costs from escalating to a point that are unpalatable?”
The reason the law proposes a minimum and not a maximum cost is so politicians can’t starve the commission of funds, Fahey said.
“The reason we put in those minimums was so that we could guarantee that some amount of funding goes into it and that even if the legislature really wanted to play games with it, they wouldn’t be able to,” said Fahey.
The Wayne State College Democrats endorse Proposal 2. The WSU College Republicans have not responded to The South End’s requests for comment.
Zoe Pidgeon, president of the WSU College Democrats, said the cost is worth overhauling the system due to the harm it currently inflicts on democracy.
“I think not having fair or representational elections is costly enough to Michigan politics,” Pidgeon said. “To people saying it will be too costly, I ask: What does it cost our democracy by not having laws that ensure elections lead to fairer, unbiased representation?”
Critics of the proposal point out the complexity and length of it.
“Proposal 2 adds 3,200 words to the Michigan Constitution. For some perspective, the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights combined add up to just over 6,300 words,” according to a mailer sent out by Protect My Vote, a subsidiary of the Michigan Freedom Fund.
Fahey said the proposal is long due to extensiveness, and she sees its length as one the proposal’s key strengths.
“The system is rigged right now. We wanted to create a comprehensive system that couldn’t be rigged,” Fahey said. “No matter what, the lines will be redrawn in 2020. It’s up to Michigan voters to decide how it’s done.”
Midterm elections are Nov. 6. Find your nearest polling location here.
Sean Taormina is The South End's breaking news and WSUPD beat reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com. Cover art by Danielle Kullmann.