DETROIT – Michigan voters have decided to change how their state's congressional and legislative districts are drawn.
Voters on Tuesday approved Proposal 18-2, an anti-gerrymandering initiative calling for a constitutional amendment that will entrust redistricting to an independent commission instead of the Legislature and governor.
It is a bid to stop partisan gerrymandering, the process of a political party drawing electoral maps to maintain or expand its hold on power. Michigan Republicans controlled redistricting after the 2010 and 2000 censuses.
They have nine of Michigan's 14 U.S. House districts and hold 27-10 and 63-46 majorities in the state Senate and state House, respectively.
What happens next?
Under the "Voters Not Politicians" proposal, the newly-created commission will have 13 members: 4 members from each of the two largest political parties (currently Republicans and Democrats) and 5 members who are not affiliated with either major party.
The Secretary of State will mail applications to at least 10,000 randomly selected registered voters. In addition, any registered Michigan voter can apply to serve on the commission. Applications may ask for things like name, address where registered to vote, basic demographic information, and political party affiliation.
From the qualified applicants, the Secretary of State’s office will randomly select 200 finalists: 60 Republicans, 60 Democrats, and 80 who are not affiliated with those parties. These applicants will be selected from demographic and geographic categories so that when the 200 finalists are drawn randomly, they will reflect the geographic and demographic makeup of Michigan. The majority and minority leaders in the Michigan House and Senate will be able to strike up to 5 applications each.
The Secretary of State will then randomly select the final commission members from the remaining pool of applicants.
How will the commission draw maps?
The commission will be required to follow a set of strict criteria. Districts will be equal in population, will comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, and will be single, unbroken shapes. The commission will also ask the public (through public hearings) what communities Michiganders want to keep together in districts, like school districts, agricultural regions, and more. Maps cannot give an unfair advantage to any political party, politician or candidate. Finally, maps will take into account existing boundaries such as cities, townships, and counties, and will be reasonably compact.
The commission will have funds set aside to hire experts and consultants to help them draw the maps.
How will the commission approve a map?
The final maps must be approved by a simple majority of commission members, meaning seven total commissioners must vote yes. At least two Republicans, two Democrats, and two commissions who belong to neither party must vote yes for the final maps to be approved. This prevents two groups from joining together to push through maps that favor a party or politician.
If the required majority can’t agree on a set of maps, the commissioners may submit proposed maps, and the commission will use a ranking system to select the final set of maps. In the unlikely event that this backup method does not produce a final map, a final map will be randomly selected from the maps submitted by the commissioners.
How will ordinary citizens provide input in the new process?
Commissioners will hold public hearings across the state to hear how communities want to be represented in districts. Members of the public will also be able to submit comments, concerns, feedback, and even potential maps for consideration online.
Hearings will also be held after the maps are drawn to show exactly what factors went into their development and gather feedback before the final votes. All of the information that goes into the decisions - including the data and computer programming used - will be available to the public.
What ensures that commissioners will act in a nonpartisan manner?
First, politicians, lobbyists, and people with the biggest conflict of interest cannot serve on the commission.
Second, the commission will be comprised of Democrats, Republicans and those who belong to neither party and these groups must compromise and reach a broad consensus to approve final maps.
Third, the commission is required to follow a strict set of criteria when drawing the maps and cannot give a disproportionate advantage to any party or candidate.
Finally, the commission must conduct its business publicly and must publish everything used to draw the maps, including the data and computer software used.
How much will the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission cost?
Right now, we have no way of knowing how much the current process costs because it happens entirely behind closed doors with little regulation.
The commission will have its own budget equal to 25 percent of the Secretary of State’s budget. That’s about $5.5 million for each year the commission is active. If the commission is active for two years each decade, the cost for each Michigander would average out to about eleven cents per year.
Most voters would gladly return a few pop cans if it means returning transparency and fairness to Lansing.
Expenditures are subject to audit and any leftover funds will be returned to the state of Michigan.