‘Anti-gerrymandering’ petition signatures sent to state

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A group aiming to create a new commission to redraw Michigan’s election districts says it submitted enough signatures Monday to put the issue before voters on the 2018 ballot.

Voters Not Politicians turned in more than 315,600 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office to let Michigan voters decide whether to create a new redistricting commission that’s meant to change the ratio of Democrats and Republicans who are elected by considering new legislative and congressional district boundaries that don’t grant an advantage to either party.

The ballot proposal would amend the state constitution to create an independent citizen redistricting commission that could draw up new boundaries every 10 years, something the Legislature currently does. Republicans established the current district boundaries in 2011 and have enjoyed strong majorities in both the state House and Senate.

Those new district lines resulted in one of the most lopsided political advantages in the nation, according to an analysis by the Associated Press.

Under the ballot proposal, four Democrats, four Republicans and five members without affiliation to a major party would be drawn at random by Michigan’s Secretary of State to be on the new redistricting commission.

“At the end of the day, what matters is people actually being listened to. If we can’t trust that our voice is being heard at the Capitol ... then what are we doing? It’s not really democracy then,” said Katie Fahey, the ballot committee’s president. “Wherever the process is controlled by politicians and lobbyists, it’s undermining our confidence in government.”

Although the organization has called itself “nonpartisan,” seven of 10 board members for the Voters Not Politicians ballot committee have given at least a combined $5,649 to Democratic candidates and causes since 2005, according to state and federal campaign finance records compiled by the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund.

Tony Daunt, the Freedom Fund’s executive director, has said the petition drive is “just another attempt by liberal activists” to get more Democrats elected and their message doesn’t resonate with voters.

But Fahey defends the group as nonpartisan.

“You know, none of us knew each other a year ago,” she said. “This started online and was from the very beginning nonpartisan. And I think if you look at the policy, it’s completely fair for anybody no matter what their party is. I really think it’s more of a talking point for the establishment that doesn’t want this to change because they’re going to lose money and power.”

One of the group’s thousands of volunteers said she got involved with the campaign in part because of an intense year of politics.

Candy LeVasseur, 60, said the group’s nonpartisan stance encouraged her. The pre-school teacher drove two hours from her home in Pinconning to help carry boxes of signatures into the Secretary of State’s Office in Lansing in the drizzling winter rain.

“And in this year of so much controversy, I was happy to work on something that was for the people that everyone could get on board with,” said LeVasseur.