What is Redistricting?

Redistricting, or reapportionment, is the process of determining which geographical areas will be represented by which politician. Broadly, the goal of redistricting is to define district lines so that each political representative is apportioned about the same number of people to represent in Lansing or Washington, D.C. Periodic redistricting — typically every 10 years, after a new U.S. census is taken — is necessary because populations change: Some areas grow or shrink in population faster than others.

The chief concern about the redistricting process is gerrymandering. This is the term used for drawing representative district boundaries in a way that gives an electoral advantage to a political candidate, incumbent politician or to one particular political party.

How Redistricting Works Now

Section IV of the Michigan Constitution establishes a special, bipartisan commission to redraw district boundaries after every U.S. census. However, these rules were deemed unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution in 1982. Because of that and since then, districts have been drawn by the Legislature and approved just like any other bill gets passed. These plans need to comply with the U.S. Constitution, federal law (Voting Rights Act of 1965) and U.S. Supreme Court case law.

About 40 states primarily rely on the Legislature to draw new district maps. Six states use independent commissions like what would be established in Michigan if voters approve Proposal 2.

The Nuts and Bolts of Proposal 2

Proposal 2 would do the following:

  1. Establish a 13-member commission, made up of 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 5 people who swear under oath that they do not affiliate with either party.
    • These members could not have held or run for a partisan office in the last 6 years, worked for a legislator, or be a lobbyist, or paid consultant or employee of a political party or a certain state employee or even be a parent, stepparent, child or stepchild of one of these disqualified people.
    • Members can apply on their own, but the secretary of state must also mail out at least 10,000 applications randomly and 50 percent of the final pool that is used to randomly select the members must come from applicants responding to these mailed applications.
  • The commission must meet in public and host a number of public hearings during the process of drafting and voting on redistricting plans.
  • Each commissioner can submit one plan and then the commission votes on the plans, using a points-based scoring system (ranking them from most preferred to least preferred).
  • The Michigan Supreme Court may review the plan for compliance and then send it back to the commission if it fails that test.

Arguments in favor of Proposal 2

1. Statistical tests suggest Michigan’s recent district maps may have been gerrymandered

  • The three most commonly used tests found that Michigan’s voting outcomes suggest gerrymandering could have occurred.

2. Redistricting rules should be constitutional

  • There really are no current binding laws on the Legislature when it draws districts. It must meet federal requirements, but that’s it.

3. Proposal 2 provides needed transparency to the process

  • The process would be open and public. Current legislatively drawn districts get little more attention that a normal bill, of which hundreds are passed each year.

Arguments against Proposal 2

1. It relies heavily on poorly defined concepts

  • For instance, the applicants for the commission must “mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state.” Districts must also reflect “communities of interest.” But none of these important terms are defined concretely, and these may have to be battled out in court or left to the discretion of the secretary of state.

2. Partisanship will prevail

  • Democrats and Republicans will likely vote together and each party will likely throw its support behind just one plan. The way the voting works then, all the power will reside with the “independent” members, and if none of these members submit a plan, they will simply be voting on either the Republican-supported plan or the Democrat-supported plan. Basically, whichever party garners the most support from these independents will have their partisan map approved.

3. A scalpel is needed, Proposal 2 is a cleaver

  • There are improvements that could be made to Michigan’s redistricting process that do not require an entire rewrite of this section of the constitution. In fact, the current language in the constitution about redistricting provides a similar process to what Proposal 2 would create and would likely need only small modifications to be deemed constitutional again.