Michigan board approves redistricting measure for ballot

LANSING — Michigan voters may be asked if they want to create a commission to draw districts for seats in Congress and the state Legislature this fall.

On Wednesday, the Board of State Canvassers unanimously approved the petition for the November ballot. The state elections bureau estimated the petition collected at least 394,000 valid voter signatures, which exceeds the 315,654-signature minimum threshold for certification. The measure still awaits a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court, which has the final say.

The initiative is led by an all-volunteer group called Voters Not Politicians. It proposes a state constitutional amendment to stamp out political gerrymandering by fashioning an independent commission to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts.

“From day one, the heart and soul of our campaign has been our volunteers,” the committee’s founder and director, Katie Fahey, said Wednesday. “We will win in November thanks to their passion and willingness to spread the word about the need for redistricting reform to make Michigan’s government work for its people.”

At the public meeting, a crowd of about a couple hundred volunteers for the group sprang up in thunderous applause following the board’s 3-0 vote. Supporters donned black shirts emblazoned with the phrase, “Voters should choose their politicians not the other way around.”

The grassroots-led effort is currently battling a legal challenge from The Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, a conservative-leaning group with ties to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Two months ago, the group sued the state elections board, arguing that the anti-gerrymandering ballot committee seeks to amend so many parts of the state constitution that a constitutional convention is required and that the proposal does not list all of the sections of the constitution that would be abrogated.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled against the lawsuit, but The Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution appealed to the state Supreme Court.

“We believe the Court of Appeals got this wrong,” the group’s spokesman, Dave Doyle, said Wednesday. “The VNP proposal is an expansive general revision of the State Constitution both in terms of fundamental change and sheer volume of words … and we are eager to make our case before the Michigan Supreme Court.”

Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating the redistricting process to accommodate the ruling party. It has been criticized for exacerbating party polarization and discouraging competitive elections. The U.S. Supreme Court has so far declined to block redistricting practices in Wisconsin and Maryland.

Michigan district boundaries are set once a decade by its partisan Legislature — most recently the Republicans in 2010. An analysis by The Associated Press found in 2016, Michigan and other battleground states had the most significant Republican advantages in U.S. or state House races.

Organizers of the Voters Not Politicians committee are confident they will prevail at the high court and expect to file a brief in opposition on Friday.

“We look forward to being on the ballot in November and giving voters a chance to change our current system, where politicians and lobbyists operate behind closed doors to draw district lines for partisan gain,” Fahey said.