By: Christina Kuo, director, Common Cause - Michigan
The next time you get to vote in a state or local election, your decision may already be made for you.
That’s because the political partisans -- Democrats and Republicans -- are already hard at work drawing the districts that state and local candidates must run in. And in many cases, those districts will be drawn with the interest of one candidate (often an incumbent) or one political party (the one in charge of the district drawing), not those of voters.
It’s called redistricting. Once every decade, after the U.S. Census data is made public, the election districts for the U.S. Congress, Michigan House and Senate, and even for local county and city offices, are redrawn.
The goal is to keep the number of people in each district even – “one man, one vote,” it’s called. But beyond that, there are few rules that the map makers have to follow.
That means the people who control or influence the process often put their own interests first. As a result, many times when voters head to the polls in November, their ability to elect someone who truly represents them is limited.
It also means that their voices are often limited. In 2006, for instance, only 45 percent of Michigan voters supported Republican candidates for the state Senate. Yet, due to skillful map drawing, Republicans won 55 percent of the seats in the Senate, and were able to control the body, thwarting Democratic policies even though a majority of voters had supported Democratic candidates.
Similar actions in Wayne County, for instance, result in Democrats having a disproportionate number of seats in that county commission.
The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative is a group of non-profit organizations, business and labor, public interest and more, that has come together with a goal of making redistricting more transparent and open, with more involvement from the public and less from partisan individuals.
The Collaborative believes the goal of the redistricting should be structured to promote fair, competitive and representative districts. Redistricting must be based on the concerns of the citizens of Michigan, not the needs of elected officials or political parties. More competitive districts will enhance the voice of voters.
This isn’t a partisan concern. In Wayne County, where Democrats control the redistricting process, it is likely that districts will be redrawn to help ensure that incumbent Democratic county commissioners win seats and that Democrats will continue to have a large margin on the county board.
In the Michigan Legislature, where Republicans control the process, districts are expected to be redrawn in a way that helps ensure most incumbent Republicans will win in the next election, allowing Republicans to maintain a majority in the House and Senate.
The goal of the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative is to affect the redistricting process in 2020 – and nobody knows which party will be in charge then.
Partisan redistricting isn’t good for Michigan. It puts the interests of politicians first – and that of the citizens second. As Congressman Bobby Shilling of Illinois – a Republican, I might point out – says, 'Rather than allowing the politicians to go in and pick the voters, we should allow the voters to pick the politicians.'
The Michigan Redistricting Collaborative is beginning a process of educating people around the state about the importance of redistricting, how it works, how it hurts Michigan, and how it can be reformed – if the voters insist that it be reformed.
Many other states already are taking the lead in this matter, and giving the people a bigger say in redistricting. It's time for Michigan to join these states and reduce partisan legislative redistricting.
Here in Michigan, Republican state Rep. John Walsh introduced legislation that would place Michigan's redistricting process in the hands of the nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau.
You can learn more by coming to one of the collaborative’s meetings in coming months, and visit its website at www.drawthelinemichigan.org or search for the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
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