Voters Not Politicians group addresses county board

Gene Champagne

MARQUETTE — At its July 3 meeting, the Marquette County Board of Commissioners heard from Voters Not Politicians, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that seeks to end gerrymandering by forming an independent citizens redistricting commission.

The group currently has an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“(The) ballot initiative would amend the state constitution to create an independent citizen redistricting commission after the next census to redraw district lines for federal congressional offices, state house, state senate offices,” VNP education coordinator Gene Champagne said at the meeting.

However, the Michigan Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear oral arguments in a special session July 18 to determine if the measure will be on the ballot. The measure has already withstood review by the Michigan Court of Appeals and was certified by the State Board of Canvassers after it was legally challenged by Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, which said the amendment is too broad of a constitutional revision to be on the ballot.

In a statement about the upcoming court session, Katie Fahey, founder and executive director of VNP wrote: “Our legal team is confident that our ballot proposal meets all requirements to go before voters in November. We are prepared to make that argument to the Michigan Supreme Court.”

While the Supreme Court’s decision remains yet to be seen, VNP says gerrymandering, which is defined as the manipulation of election maps to the benefit of a political party, is a major problem in Michigan.

“In Michigan, the Legislature (redraws districts) and it can create, if it’s abused, a very lopsided system,” Champagne said.

He told commissioners the ballot proposal, if passed, will “effectively end the process of gerrymandering, which is the manipulation of voting district lines by the party in power to ensure the re-election will maintain their power.”

He said both Democrats and Republicans “are guilty of it … (If) they have the chance and governorship to support it, they’ll do it.”

Gerrymandering happens across the state, Champagne said, but also hits very close to home.

“We have it here in the U.P., we have it right here in Marquette County,” he said. “I live in Powell Township. Since 2002, we vote with the 110th House District, the western U.P. Since 2002, my state House representatives have come from Bessemer, Ontonogan, Hancock and Calumet.”

Champagne said regardless of party affiliation, he rarely sees those who represent his district due to the significant distance between Powell Township and the rest of the 110th District.

If the VNP proposal remains on November’s ballot and passes, the independent citizens redistricting commission will be created as a transparent, nonpartisan group that will follow strict criteria for creating districts and hold public hearings during the process.

The commission would be comprised of 13 members; four members each from Republican and Democratic parties, with the remaining five commission members unaffiliated with either major party.

Applications for the commission will be mailed to at least 10,000 registered voters who are randomly selected by the Secretary of State. From qualified applicants, 200 finalists will randomly be selected: 60 Republicans, 60 Democrats and 80 people who are not affiliated with those parties.

The process aims to proportionately reflect the state’s geographic and demographic makeup.

“The majority and minority leaders in the Michigan House and Senate will be able to strike up to five applications each,” according to VNP.

Champagne asked the board at Tuesday’s meeting if it would consider endorsing the measure, noting “this board has been looked to as a leader. People listen to you across the state.”

Board Chairman Gerald Corkin said they would like to wait until the entire board was present to consider formally endorsing the measure, as Commissioners Bill Nordeen and Joe Derocha were absent, but noted his support and said it could likely come under consideration at a future meeting.

“It’s a noble thing that you’re doing,” Corkin said. “It’s the right thing that should happen if you’re going to have good government.”