What is at stake when it comes to how political district lines in Michigan are drawn? The answer is simple: your voice our democracy.
Every 10 years, Michigan and other states around the nation go about redrawing lines for congressional, legislative, county board and city council seats. That year is 2011.
The primary rule that must be followed is that districts need to be pretty close to the same size population-wise. That’s why we redistrict after each Census, to recognize people move in and out of a district.
Today, around Michigan, the districts are drawn by elected officials, who have a vested interest in the outcome that is different than the interests of voters as a whole.
The districts are often drawn in a way to provide an advantage to the political party in control of the process. This isn’t a Republican or Democratic matter – both parties do it equally when they have the opportunity.
This can be important. During 2006, Republicans won 45 percent of the vote cast for state senators – but won 55 percent of the seats. Imagine how different the state might have been managed with a change in control of that body to Democrats, which is what the voters indicated they wanted.
The same happens in county commission controlled by Democrats. This is a factual statement, not a partisan statement.
Many districts are drawn with a goal of helping elect one particular politician, or at least to benefit one party or the other. The process of redistricting is typically heavily influenced by lobbyists and PACs and other parties with vested interests. This is not good for democracy, in which voters – not partisan leaders or lobbyists – are supposed to be in charge.
How do political parties manipulate districts or gerrymander?
Whichever party controls redistricting (Republican or Democrat) seeks to maximize the number of seats it can win. It does this by creating a large number of seats that are reasonably safe for the majority party and a smaller number of districts extremely safe for the minority party.
The process results in most legislative districts being solidly held by one party and uncompetitive in the general election. This means that many voters do not have a meaningful choice at the polls. For example, a Republican who lives in a solidly Democratic district may vote for Republicans at every opportunity, but his solidly Democratic neighbors will outweigh his vote in each election. In addition, the ultimate distribution of seats in the state legislature may not reflect the overall popular vote totals in legislative elections.
Other real problems this can lead to:
- Politicians choosing their voters
- Eliminating incumbents
- Eliminating challengers
- Diluting minority votes
- Splitting communities
What can we do?
Demand an accountable, transparent redistricting process.
Require our elected officials to create an environment where communities have the opportunity to choose their elected officials, where communities can select the person they believe will be the most responsive to their needs and concerns. It’s all about the ability to hold those we elect accountable.
Our plan for more openness
The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative has a plan for more openness:
1. The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative supports legislation that would, for congressional and state legislative redistricting:
a. Require redistricting plans to be available on the Legislature’s web site for 30 days before passage.
b. That each chamber be required to hold at least two committee meetings to receive testimony about the plan.
c. That the Legislature hold at least four public hearings around the state to allow direct comment by the public.
d. That the Legislature provide a statement for each district explaining how the boundaries were drawn and how the district has been changed.
2. Other states already are taking the lead in this matter, and giving the people a bigger say in redistricting. Iowa and about nine others have taken steps to reduce partisan legislative redistricting. Now it’s time for Michigan to take that step.
Visit our home page to learn how to take action.