“If you want to end gerrymandering in Michigan, let me know.”
With that simple social media post, Count MI Vote founder Katie Fahey managed to start a new movement.
In an age where every issue seems to be mired in partisan politics or fiercely competing ideologies, Fahey was pleased to find that the issue of gerrymandering, or setting electoral district boundaries in a way that benefits a particular party or interest group, was an issue that was of interest to a very broad base of citizens passionate about the fact that voters should choose their politicians; not the other way around.
As described by Fahey, “We were surprised on that first post the diversity in the people who responded. They represented different geographies, different political viewpoints, and came from a variety of age groups and ethnicities.”
The 2016 Election Cycle revealed several concerns with our electoral process, though most of these amount to clandestine ad hoc attempts to influence a particular vote count or irregularities with the voter registration process.
The difference with gerrymandering is that it is a process that has been carried out with obvious intent, as the partisan commissions that set State electoral boundaries have been able to use less than transparent processes for establishing districts that protect incumbents, or even mimic permanent majorities for one party or influence group.
The Supreme Court has recently taken up this issue in Gill v. Whitford, a case concerning the process used for setting electoral boundaries in Wisconsin. While most States use an opaque and partisan process for making these decisions, the Wisconsin case went further.
Among other allegations, it is contended that the Republican controlled commission used mathematical computer modelling to optimize districts to have favorable outcomes in a variety of political climates and to ensure outcomes when races were tight. In this case, the Court will decide if Wisconsin went too far, creating a de facto permanent majority for the Republican Party in the State House.
Fahey has helped raise the profile of the issue in Michigan in a different way, as the initial Facebook post was turned into a public group and then into its own organization, Voters Not Politicians, which operates under the umbrella of Count MI Vote.
Voters Not Politicians has organized a ballot proposal drive, in an attempt to modify the system for setting electoral boundaries in Michigan.
As described on their website (www.votersnotpoliticians.com), the organization describes a new method for setting “fair” boundaries.
Their proposal, which would require an amendment to the Michigan Constitution, has three basic points:
• An Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) will be in charge of the redistricting process. The Commission will be made up of 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 5 Independents with representation from across the state. Political insiders (politicians, consultants, lobbyists) will be banned from serving on the Commission.
• ICRC is required to conduct its business in public hearings that are open to input from across the state. All proposed maps and the methodology/data to create them must be submitted as a public report. Everything down to the variables used by the computers used to draw the maps will be available to the public.
• The ICRC is required to follow a prioritized set of criteria and standards when drawing the maps. A minimum of 2 Democrats, 2 Republicans, and 2 Independents on the Commission must approve the final maps. This prevents one political party from controlling the process.
When asked the least surprising aspect of the movement, Fahey responded “That people are frustrated with the status quo. If politicians aren’t going to do something about it, the people are going to band together and get it done.”
On the other side, the most surprising aspect of the organization to date it’s how well this coalition of varying backgrounds and viewpoints holds to one of the organization key rules: “Be respectful of different political beliefs.”
This uncommon comradery has helped the group immensely in putting together a pool of volunteers to gather signatures. Where many ballot proposals have big money backers and often hire the people who solicit signatures from voters, Voters Not Politicians is a grassroots organization, without any large political donor as its benefactor, and the group’s work is being carried out by volunteers.
Since its inception in late Summer, the ballot petition campaign has averaged 3 signatures a minute, putting it on track to obtain the 315,654 signatures necessary for the proposed amendment to appear on the November 2018 ballot.
Detailed information on Voters Not Politicians’ proposals, as well as information on how to volunteer or donate are available on the group’s website. You can also find the group on Facebook.