Michigan Senate votes to alter gerrymandering ballot proposal

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

The Republican-controlled Senate approved a measure early this evening that Democrats blasted as interference with a voter-approved proposal to create fairer political districts in Michigan.

Proposal 2, which created a new independent redistricting commission, passed on Nov. 6 by a 22-point margin, 61 percent to 39 percent.

Republicans say Senate Bill 1254, which the Senate adopted in a 25-12 vote mostly along party lines, would add more oversight to ensure the commission would be truly equitable.

Jim Ananich |Susan J. Demas

But Democrats balked at the bill. They said it would interfere with voters’ will to create political districts that don’t overwhelmingly favor the GOP. Before urging his colleagues to vote against the bill, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) said on the Senate floor that it would not preserve the referendum’s original intent.

“The incoming secretary of state [Democrat Jocelyn Benson] was elected to preside over election matters,” Ananich said. “This legislation is unneeded and is designed to continue gerrymandering that the people have suffered for many years that this proposal was designed to fix.”

The bill would require the Secretary of State’s office to create new rules that would shape the application process for people who would be on the independent redistricting commission. The legislation also spells out those rules.

It would create new criteria not in the original ballot proposal that would determine whether someone is eligible to be in the commission. The bill would stop people affiliated with a political party from offering services, either legal or accounting, to the commission.

Voters Not Politicians ad

But voters already approved the proposal Republicans are now trying to amend, said Elizabeth Battiste, spokeswoman for Voters Not Politicians, the group that organized Proposal 2.

The ballot proposal calls for an independent redistricting commission made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five* independents.

Battiste said the proposal is “self-executing,” so it does not need additional oversight from the Legislature.

“We feel it’s [the bill]  unconstitutional, unnecessary and just flies in the face of an overwhelming majority of Michigan voters,” she said.

A memo from the group’s lawyers, Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, argued that changing the proposal is unconstitutional because it “includes specific language prohibiting the Legislature from altering or abrogating any function of the independent redistricting commission created by the constitutional amendment.

* Corrected, Dec. 16, 2018.

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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