Redistricting Reform

Volunteers from Voters Not Politicians have been gathering signatures for a proposal they hope to put before Michigan voters in November of 2018. This proposed ballot initiative would take the power to draw congressional and state legislative districts away from state legislators and give it to an independent citizen redistricting commission. Here are some important details:

Who Can Serve?

The commission would have 13 members. This would include four Democrats, four Republicans, and five individuals who are not affiliated with either major party. Commissioners must be registered and eligible to vote in Michigan.

Who Can’t Serve?

For the last six years, commissioners may not have been:

  • a candidate for or elected to federal, state, or local office
  • a political party official
  • a paid consultant or employee of a political campaign or a political action committee
  • an employee of the legislature
  • a registered lobbyist or employee of a registered lobbyist
  • one of several categories of high-level state employees who are not considered civil servants

Close family members of those categories of individuals are also disqualified. Commissioners may not run for partisan office at the state or local level in Michigan for five years following their appointment.

How Will the 13 Commissioners be Selected?

Applicants can come from one of two methods: 1) open application and 2) invited application. The Secretary of State (SoS) will initiate an open application process “in a manner that invites wide public participation from different regions of the state.”  Through the invited application process, the SoS will mail applications to at least 10,000 random Michigan voters. 

Based on the information on the applications, the Secretary of State will eliminate applicants whose applications are incomplete and those who are ineligible to serve. The SoS will then randomly select pools of 60 Democrats, 60 Republicans, and 80 non-affiliated voters. If possible, half of each pool will consist of applicants who received applications through the random Secretary of State mailing. Statistical weighting will be used to ensure that pools mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state.

The Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, House Speaker, and House Minority Leader can each strike up to five people from any pool.

The Secretary of State will randomly select four Democrats, four Republicans, and five non-affiliated voters from the remaining pools to serve as commissioners.

How Will the Public’s Input Make a Difference in Drawing New Districts?

The public will be invited to talk about their communities, neighborhoods, interests, and other factors. People can advocate for how the lines should be drawn. The commission must hold at least 10 public hearings before drawing maps and five after publishing a round of draft maps. All redistricting work must be conducted in open hearings, in writing, or at a publicly noticed forum or town hall.

What Are the Proposed Rules for Drawing Maps?

The commission must draw districts that prioritize several traditional redistricting criteria. In rank order, these are:

  • Adherence to the Constitution and VRA and other federal laws
  • Contiguity (making sure all parts of the district are connected)
  • Reflecting the state’s diverse population and communities of interest
  • Not giving “disproportionate advantage to any political party”
  • Not favoring or disfavoring an incumbent, elected official or candidate
  • Reflecting county, city, and township boundaries
  • And being reasonably compact

What Are the Requirements for New District Maps to be Approved?

The commission must approve final plans by a majority vote (seven of 13) that includes at least two Democrats, two Republicans, and two non-affiliated commissioners. If this agreement cannot be reached, there are back-up plans for choosing the final maps that involve ranked choice voting among the commissioners, or a final selection by random drawing. The maps do not go to the state legislature for approval.

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