Friday, October 5, 2018
MIDLAND — Redefining boundaries for political districts is a necessary component of a representative democracy. It determines which group of people are represented by which politician. But the process is generally not well understood. A new policy brief published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy explains the redistricting process and the changes offered by Proposal 2, the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.
In Michigan, redistricting is currently done by the state Legislature. Proposal 2 would change that, explicitly forbidding the Legislature from drawing district lines and instead assign a 13-member special commission to do so instead.
Michigan is not a stranger to special redistricting commissions, as the state constitution already empowers a similar commission to what Proposal 2 would create. That original commission has been used a few times since the constitution was ratified in 1963. But the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that process to be unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution in 1982, and the Legislature has been drawing the maps since, which is how most states still do it.
“Because of these legal rulings and others, Michigan really doesn’t have its own set of binding rules for redistricting,” said Michael Van Beek, author of the report and director of research at the Mackinac Center. “The Legislature still has to comply with federal laws, however.”
Proposal 2 would replace this defunct section of the constitution and create a brand new process to draw the district maps for Michigan House members, Michigan senators, U.S. House of Representatives members and U.S. senators. The commission would be comprised of four Democrats, four Republicans and five people who must swear under oath that they do not affiliate with either of these parties. Current or recent politicians, lobbyists, legislative employees and even the parents and children of these individuals would be prohibited from serving on the commission. The secretary of state would select the commission at random from a pool of 200 applicants.
Once in place, the commission would hold ten public hearings, during which the public would be allowed to submit redistricting proposals for the commission to review. Each commissioner could submit one proposal for each district type and would vote on their fellow commissioners’ proposals with a ranking system. There would be additional stipulations established to avoid maps drawn in a way that favors one party over another.
As with any significant policy proposal, there are solid arguments both for and against this proposal. The brief explains the top three arguments for each position. One prominent argument in support of Proposal 2 is that there is some evidence to suggest that Michigan’s current district maps may have been gerrymandered, providing a partisan advantage to Republicans. The most prominent argument against Proposal 2 is that it relies too heavily on poorly defined concepts and could result in an endless litigation battle over the implications of these terms.
“Proposal 2 would significantly change the way Michigan draws its district lines for political representation,” Van Beek added. “This report should help voters get a better sense for how redistricting works, the changes Proposal 2 would produce, and enable them to weigh out the arguments on both sides of this issue.”
The full study can be found here: https://www.mackinac.org/archives/2018/s2018-11.pdf.