Group hoping to end gerrymandering in Michigan faces challenges while waiting for approval

Posted at 8:02 AM, May 15, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-15 13:07:25-04

Voters Not Politicians, the group hoping to end gerrymandering in Michigan, is facing more challenges while they also wait on approval from the Michigan Board of State Canvassers.

Last week, the group called for the state board to certify their proposal to be on the ballot. The group also said last week they hoped the petition would appear on Tuesday's agenda.

When the agenda for Tuesday's board meeting came down, the only consideration on the agenda was for the petition filed by Protecting Michigan Taxpayers.

Led by a group of volunteers collecting signatures, Voters Not Politicians collected over 425,000 signatures and submitted them to the Michigan Bureau of Elections in December. They needed about 316,000, equal to about 10 percent of the state’s population.

According to the group, the Bureau of Elections staff found that 92 percent of the signatures were valid, which was also confirmed by a consulting firm.

“We remain optimistic that the Board of State canvassers will quickly move to certify our proposal for the November ballot so the voters have a chance to decide on this important reform for our democracy,” Founder and Executive Director Katie Fahey said.

The group wants to change the way political districts are drawn in the state of Michigan. Currently, the state legislators re-draw political district lines every 10 years after the U.S. Census, the next of which would come in 2020.

A report from Bridge Magazine last year found that gerrymandering in Michigan is among the worst in the United States.

Take a look at the Congressional maps for Michigan below, re-drawn in 2010 for 2011.

Michigan's 14 congressional districts

Michigan's 110 state house districts

Michigan's 38 state senate districts

Whichever party is in majority has control of the redistricting process. In both 2000 and 2010, it has been the Republican Party. 

Under the Voters Not Politicians proposed constitutional amendment, an independent commission from state citizens would handle the redistricting. That board would be made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and five members with no political affiliation.

Those members would be drawn at random by the secretary of state. There are also several ways that people would be ineligible to serve on the commission, including being a declared candidate for office, an elected official, a paid consultant, employee of the legislature and more.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State, Fred Woodhams, tells 7 Action News that the bureau is working to complete its report on the petition and get it to the board.

According to Woodhams, they expect the petition to be presented to the board for their consideration by the end of the month.

Woodhams also said that the deadline to file for constitutional amendments, such as Voters Not Politicians, isn’t until July 9.

On top of that, the elections bureau is working to review petitions that were filed by nine gubernatorial candidates, three U.S. Senate candidates, as well as dozens of U.S. House and judicial candidates.

“The people of Michigan deserve a chance to end our current redistricting process, which allows politicians working behind closed doors to manipulate districts to their personal and partisan benefit,” the group’s campaign counsel said in a release.

Voter Not Politicians is now also in the middle of a legal fight after a Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution filed a lawsuit in the state appeals court.

The lawsuit, filed last month, claims that Voters Not Politicians is trying to make so many changes to the state’s constitution that it instead should require a constitutional convention.

According to the Associated Press, the group says the Board of State Canvassers should not take any action on the Voters Not Politicians petition until the appeals court makes a ruling.

“The VNP Proposal is too broad in scope and works revisions of such significance to the fundamental operation of state government that it cannot be accomplished through an initiated amendment; instead it constitutes a general revision which can only be accomplished by the calling of a constitutional convention,” the lawsuit reads.

Voters Not Politicians’ proposal would amend multiple parts of the state constitution, including Article IV, sections 1-6, Article 5, sections 1, 2 and 4 and Article VI, sections 1 and 4.

Bob LaBrant and Eric Doster created another group, the Committee to Protect Voters Rights, in 2017 to fight against Voters Not Politicians.

According to the AP, Doster was the general counsel for the Michigan GOP for 25 years while LaBrant is a redistricting expert and longtime Republican strategist.

If the Michigan Board of State Canvassers approves the petition, it would then go to the voters on the November ballot.