LANSING, Mich. — Ballot Proposal 2 on Michigan’s ballot has sparked controversy and debate that has taken the idea of gerrymandering all the way to the state’s Supreme Court.
Voters Not Politicians (VNP) spearheaded by Katie Fahey, is the group behind Proposal 2. Fahey said the idea came to her after the 2016 election and she wanted to find a way to draw political district lines without benefiting one political party over the other.
“We’re making sure that those with the worst conflict of interest, the politicians, that we’re supposed to be deciding if we’re voting on or not, can’t be the actual ones drawing those lines to give themselves a benefit,” Fahey said.
The proposal would create a 13-member citizens redistricting commission. The commission would draw the district lines following the census every ten years. There would be four members from the majority party, four from the minority, and five members from a third party or independent voters.
“Another really important piece is, that the rules that they have to follow, actually make it illegal for these maps to be drawn favoring one political party, or one individual candidate over anyone else,” she said.
Fahey said while some people have argued the number of people who are excluded, such as politicians and their family members, that it does not compare to the number of people who are not part of the process now.
“Right now, in the current process over 9 million people are excluded,” she said. “The only people not excluded are the actual politicians and their top donors and political parties who happen to be in the room when these maps are drawn, in secret, and then pushed out as law that impact elections for 10 years at a time.”
The commission would be required to hold at least 10 meetings across the state before district lines can be drawn. The public is encouraged to attend the meetings and voice concerns.
“If you show up to one of those meetings, the commission has to listen to you. If you submit a comment online, they have to respond back,” Fahey said.
Earlier in the year, the Michigan Supreme Court sided with VNP and allowed the issue to be placed on the ballot. Challengers argued the proposal tried to change too much of the Michigan Constitution for a ballot initiative, and instead, required a constitutional convention.
“In Michigan, we have the right to petition our government which is exciting because when things like gerrymandering, where our politicians probably don’t have a lot of incentive to give themselves less power, the people are going to be the ones to demand that change,” Fahey said when asked about the Court’s ruling.
The proposal has gotten the attention of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is a Republican. He came to Michigan on Oct. 20 to rally for the cause.
Not everyone in the state is on board with Proposal 2.
Michigan Freedom Fund’s Executive Director Tony Daunt said he agrees that gerrymandering needs to end in the state, but this initiative is the wrong path.
“It’s costly, it’s complex, it’s unaccountable, [and] it’s unfair,” Daunt said. “There’s nothing in the language of the proposal that establishes a maximum of what their budget could be, what their salaries could be and they’re in complete control of that.”
Daunt is concerned about the financial implications of the proposal. He said the current method, which allows law makers to draw the district lines, already has safeguards in place for concerns.
“The opposing party, and anyone who feels aggrieved by these maps, has an opportunity to file a lawsuit,” he said.
Fahey said the proposal will save taxpayer’s money because the process is done in the open and everything will be subject to an audit. She said the plan equates to about "a pop can and a penny," or 11 cents, per tax payer.
According to the ballot language, once the districts are drawn, the commission will be dissolved and the process for gathering new members will begin again.
Michigan joins other states this November with similar proposals on the ballot; Mississippi, Colorado and Utah voters will also decide on this issue. If passed, the districts would be drawn by the commission by the end of 2021; however, regardless if Proposal 2 passes, the district lines will be redrawn following the 2020 census.