Labor Voices: Redistricting reform would benefit democracy
Next month, Michigan and the nation face a very important election. Millions will go to the polls in this state and hopefully will decide to support candidates who have the back of working Michiganians and their families.
But will their votes and their values ultimately be reflected in those who are elected to serve? Too often, the answer has been no. Why is that? Because lawmakers and their corporate cronies have used the decennial redistricting process to protect pro-business incumbents and minimize the power of their opponents.
In case it isn’t apparent, the GOP oversaw the district lines crafted for each seat in 2010. Michigan is one of 28 states where the Legislature is charged with overseeing redistricting.
This wasn’t by happenstance. Emails discovered in July show Michigan Republican officials sought to pack “Dem garbage” into four congressional districts in the southeastern part of the state. The effort to manipulate representation in Michigan is real. This state is not the only one with a Legislature that has drawn district borders through a partisan lens, but that is no reason to accept such behavior.
On Nov. 6, however, there is something the state’s electorate can do to change the process. They can vote to support a ballot measure that would end the process known as gerrymandering by having an independent commission take control of the redistricting process and draw the lines for state and federal legislative seats.
The commission would be made up of 13 Michigan residents, including four Democrats, four Republicans and five independent members. It would meet every 10 years after the U.S. Census results are tabulated and be charged with crafting districts that are politically competitive. The commission would be overseen by the Secretary of State.
This proposal has certainly faced obstacles along the way. A group backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce attempted to have it removed from the ballot by arguing the measure was too broad and needed to be considered at a state constitutional convention. The state Supreme Court in July decided otherwise.
There are two other measures on the ballot that should be considered as well. One would broaden the ability to register to vote by allowing same-day registration and automatically enrolling people when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicle, for instance. Another would legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. These initiatives would increase voter participation and create jobs. Those are also good policy.
But the reach of the redistricting measure goes much further. Electoral representation affects all issues because these are the people who vote on the issues that affect people’s lives. It is only right those who are put in a place of power should reflect the views of the voters in a given state. That hasn’t been happening in Michigan, and millions are being negatively affected because of it.
It is time for this state’s congressional and state lawmakers to match the philosophy of those they represent. Michigan voters deserve that. But just as importantly, so does democracy.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.