Redistricting, or reapportionment, is the process of determining which geographical areas will be represented by which politician. There are 164 representative districts in Michigan, counting both state and federal districts.[*] 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 is necessary because populations change: Some areas grow or shrink in population faster than others.

The redistricting process is rooted in the U.S. Constitution, which states that elected representatives “shall be apportioned among the several states … according to their respective numbers.”[1] Further, the Constitution explicitly empowers the states to determine the “times, places and manner of holding elections” for Congress.[2] Subsequently, states typically draw these lines every 10 years or so, after each official national census.

The U.S. Supreme Court provided additional clarification on this process in cases decided in 1964. The Court ruled that the Constitution requires that each representative district be drawn so “that as nearly as is practicable, one man’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.”[3] In a different case decided that year, the Court held that the same standard applies to state-level districts and representation.[4]

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. Gerrymandering’s impact and prevalence is a common topic of debate in political science.

Proposal 2 of 2018 would change the way redistricting is done in Michigan. By amending the Michigan Constitution, it would prohibit the Legislature from drawing districts and instead empower a 13-member commission to determine district lines. Supporters of Proposal 2 claim that allowing politicians to determine district boundaries is “a conflict of interest” and enables the political party with majority control to “draw maps that give them an almost unbeatable advantage in future elections.”[5]

This policy brief will quickly describe the history of redistricting and how it is currently practiced in Michigan and in other states. It will then explain the plan contained in Proposal 2. Finally, it will present an equal number of arguments for and against the proposal. An appendix contains the exact language that voters will find on the ballot on Nov. 6, 2018.

[*] Two U.S. Senate districts, 14 U.S. House districts, 38 Michigan Senate districts, 110 Michigan House districts.