Taking Back Democracy — State by State

At Long Last — Putting an End to Gerrymandering 

“For the party in control of the map-making, the main objective is to herd the opposing party’s voters into the fewest legislative districts possible while spreading its own party’s voters as evenly as possible among the remaining districts… It’s called gerrymandering, and it’s not pretty.” — The Detroit Free Press Editorial Board, August 2015

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A grassroots group in Michigan wants to make the Great Lakes State the first in the nation to constitutionally bar politicians from participating in the redistricting process. The nonpartisan ballot question committee, Voters Not Politicians, is launching a petition drive for a 2018 constitutional amendment to strip professional partisans of their ability to gerrymander districts to favor political parties.

The Supreme Court ruled back in 1964 that redistricting must be “fair and effective representation for all citizens” — a fine idea in a theoretical vacuum, but it certainly has not proven to be operational under the rancor of partisan politics. Districts have been manipulated at both the federal and state level, crippling the electoral process and weakening our democracy.

Katie Fahey of Voters Not Politicians asserts it’s time to end the dominance of the “back room of politicians”, explaining:

“Michigan historically has been a middle-of-the-road state, with the two major parties generally receiving virtually the same number of votes for the Legislature and Congress. The Legislature and Congressional delegation should reflect that fact. In 2016, the difference between the two major parties’ state House vote was just 3,000 votes (0.07%). But the creative maps developed by the politicians and their consultants gave one party a 63-47 advantage in the House. Every other election in this century has been similarly distorted by the mapmakers.”

Michigan is not unique in their politically tortured district maps. The practice of gerrymandering knows no party, but as Republicans came to dominate state legislatures across the nation over the past decade, GOP operatives set to work redrawing districts that simply defy logic and ethical norms.

Neighboring Wisconsin recently got spanked hard in a federal court ruling which found the state’s extreme gerrymandering unconstitutional. Subsequently, the court rejected a request from the governor to await a Supreme Court decision on the question. Wisconsin was ordered to redraw their districts in time for the 2018 midterm elections. Similar legal action against gerrymandering is in the works in Michigan.

The Wisconsin decision fueled additional challenges in a number of states, with the high court expected to rule on charges of racial gerrymandering in North Carolina and Virginia in June. Redistricting along racial lines has long been considered a violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act — yet it persists wherever minorities exist. In advance of the anticipated surge in legal challenges, Tufts University, in partnership with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is now offering a 6-day course for mathematicians to train them on how to become expert witnesses on the topic. Over 900 people have indicated interest in the program.

Michigan voters have their eye on the ball with their proactive state constitutional amendment drive which will create a 9-member Citizens’ Redistricting Commission, focused on these core principles:

  • Politicians, given their inherent conflict of interest, should not be in charge of drawing district maps
  • Michigan’s representatives in government should reflect the political views of the state overall
  • Minority communities must be assured fair and adequate representation
  • Partisan gerrymandering—the practice of manipulating district lines to protect incumbents, political parties or individual candidates—must end
  • Communities of common interest should be preserved
  • Districts should be compact and contiguous

State Independent Commissions became possible through a landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling which struck down a Republican challenge to the authority of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The door for reform was kicked wide open.

In recent years, Democrats have suffered the most from extreme gerrymandering. The Democratic National Committee has been under increasing pressure from stake holders to tackle the problem. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is the point man for aiding states in the redistricting process makeover. He’s been tapped to head the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an organization intent on undoing the state-level gerrymandering mess. It seems a new appreciation for the “all politics is local” maxim is driving the DNC’s renewed interest in capturing state Houses.

Redistricting will next occur after the decennial census in 2020. So, significant change can only occur well after the 2018 midterm elections — a contest heavily skewed by GOP redistricting.

The process of petitioning for a constitutional amendment in Michigan is an arduous one requiring the collection of well over 300,000 valid signatures within the narrow window of 180 days. And, it’s not cheap. Political strategist Howard Edelson, of the Edelson Group, a veteran of a number of statewide ballot-measure campaigns, told the Detroit Free Press that the cost will run between $10 and $15 million. Voters Not Politicians is actively fundraising. You can learn more by clicking HERE.

Putting an end to gerrymandering is certainly a herculean task — as with all things political, scruples typically are the first to go out the window for those in power. It’s a malady affecting both parties. Martin O’Malley (D), the former governor of Maryland, recently came clean on his abuse of the redistricting process. His turn-around occurred contemporaneous to being served a subpoena commanding his testimony about his participation in redrawing the state’s congressional districts in 2010 to the advantage of his party.

O’Malley spoke at length last month at the Boston College School of Law on the restoration of the integrity of our democracy through bipartisan cooperation:

“America needs non-partisan redistricting commissions not only for drawing Congressional districts every ten years, but for state legislative districts as well. This simple reform, already being adopted in some states, must become the new norm of American democracy.

Maryland is somewhat unique in that the current governor, Larry Hogan (R), shares O’Malley’s call for a nonpartisan commission to consider redistricting.

Another Republican, a former governor of California, also weighed-in on doing-away with the practice of unscrupulous partisan redistricting:

“We took the power of drawing the district lines away from the politicians and gave it back to the people, where it belongs… We’ve proven that gerrymandering can be permanently terminated.”

Yep, that was Arnold Schwarzenegger.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

To support Voters Not Politicians click HERE.

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