Michigan redistricting group scores 'minor win' with ballot summary change

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Katie Fahey talks to demonstrators as they rally outside the Michigan Hall of Justice Wednesday, July 18, 2018, where the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the constitution should be amended by voters to change the way political districts are made.

Lansing — The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Thursday approved final ballot language for a proposal to create a commission “of citizens” to draw new legislative and congressional district boundaries every 10 years.

The two-word reference to citizens was added after two hours of debate by the bipartisan board over what will be designated as Proposal 2 on the November ballot. Canvassers were under a court order to approve language but deadlocked 2-2 on an initial 100-word summary recommended by Election Director Sally Williams.

Voters Not Politicians, the ballot committee supporting the measure, had asked canvassers to call it a proposal for an “independent citizens redistricting commission” and suggested other changes to emphasize public transparency provisions in the full seven-page petition.

Opposition group Protect My Vote had suggested calling it a “majority partisan commission” because eight of the 13 members would be self-identified partisans, four from each major political party. a recommendation Williams rejected on the grounds it was "not impartial."

“I’m not going to go there,” Williams told attorney Jason Hanselman, who was booed by ballot proposal supporters twice during the hearing.

The proposed commission would draw political boundaries each decade, a process currently controlled by politicians from whichever party controls the state Legislature at the time, most recently Republicans.

Getting “of citizens” added to the ballot header was a “minor win” for the ballot committee, said Votes Not Politicians founder and Executive Director Katie Fahey. “Unfortunately there was still major aspects of how we intentionally crafted the language — the purpose of crafting it — that were left out.”

Democratic Canvasser Julie Matuzak was the lone vote against the final language, which she opposed because it did not include reference to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She wanted to note the proposal would require adherence to the federal law instead of “communities of interest,” an undefined term in the proposal that opponents have criticized as overly vague.

Tony Daunt, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, said he thinks Democrats on the board who proposed language changes “were intent on stacking the deck in their favor.” The proposal wouldn't allow all citizens to join the commission, he noted, pointing to provisions that would exclude partisan officials and their family members.

While debate over individual words in the proposal appeared to be an exercise in minutiae, Fahey said it was important to help shape the final product voters will see Nov. 6 when they step into the voting booth.

“I think it's huge, because we have a lot of proposals that are going to be up this year” in addition to elections for state and federal seats, she said. “A lot of people may wait until the ballot booth until they decide whether they want to vote yes or no.”

Finalization of the Voters Not Politicians language — ordered by a federal judge due to concerns over late challenges — settles one of several looming questions over Michigan’s ballot that must be finalized by next Friday’s deadline.

Canvassers must still approve language for other proposals, including Proposal 1 to legalize recreational marijuana, and the Bureau of Elections is finalizing an expanded review of signatures from a group hoping to put no-reason absentee voting on the ballot. 

Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature is debating whether to adopt and later amend minimum wage and paid sick leave proposals rather than let them go to the ballot. Any potential action would likely happen Wednesday, when lawmakers return from summer break.

The state is also challenging a court order allowing independent attorney general candidate Chris Graveline on the ballot even though he did not gather the full 30,000 signatures required under state law.


                                                        PROPOSAL 18-02


This proposed constitutional amendment would:

  • •Create a commission of 13 registered voters randomly selected by the Secretary of State:
    • 4 each who self-identify as affiliated with the 2 major political parties; and
    • 5 who self-identify as unaffiliated with major political parties.
  • Prohibit partisan officeholders and candidates, their employees, certain relatives, and lobbyists from serving as commissioners.
  • Establish new redistricting criteria including geographically compact and contiguous districts of equal population, reflecting Michigan’s diverse population and communities of interest. Districts shall not provide disproportionate advantage to political parties or candidates.
  • Require an appropriation of funds for commission operations and commissioner compensation.

                                            Should this proposal be adopted?
                                                            [ ] YES
                                                            [ ] NO