Monday, Oct 22, 2018
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EDITORIAL

Citizens over spoils in Michigan

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Secretary-of-State-Voting

Michigan Secretary of State would play a crucial role in the gerrymandering plan proposed by activist group Voters Not Politicians.

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A group of Michigan activists called Voters Not Politicians is seeking to end the practice of partisan gerrymandering in their state. Theirs is the side of the angels. Indeed, they are the angels.

In just three months, Voters Not Politicians has collected 350,000 signatures for its proposed initiative — an astounding level of success for an all-volunteer group without a pre-existing base of support. To get on the ballot next year, 315,000 of the signatures must be valid.

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Under the proposed amendment to the state constitution, a commission of citizens would draw up the new congressional districts. There would be four Democrats, four Republicans, and five members with no affiliation to either party, drawn at random by the Secretary of State. 

Skeptics argue that this plan would not expunge partisan motivations as its proponents claim. Given that the citizens on the commission  would come to office with only rudimentary knowledge of how the system works, they would end up relying heavily on the Secretary of State, and his or her staff, for assistance. That might give the secretary’s party the electoral advantage.

It is no coincidence that most, if not all, of this criticism has come from the Michigan Republican Party. Last fall’s election saw a 50-50 split between votes cast for Republican and Democratic state House candidates, yet the GOP won 57 percent of the seats. The reason is no mystery: Republican operatives drew Michigan’s current districts in 2011, and the map works to their manifest advantage.

In 2008, California passed a ballot initiative almost identical to the one proposed by Voters Not Politicians. The result was not some hijacking of the proceedings by the Secretary of State, but rather the creation of some of the most competitive districts in the nation, according to independent studies conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, the National Journal, and Ballotpedia. Prior to the passage of that initiative, California, like Michigan, was one of the most blatantly gerrymandered states in the country.

For the sake of argument, let’s say undue influence from the Secretary of State could undermine the integrity of the redistricting process. But that integrity is already undermined, and to a far greater degree than it would be under this plan.

If critics of Voters Not Politicians’ plan want to be taken seriously, they need a proposal of their own. Right now, the outcome they are warning voters against is indistinguishable from the status quo, which is indefensible.

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