Group wants redistricting reform to stop politicians ‘gaming’ system

Posted at 6:15 PM, Feb 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-28 18:15:33-05

LANSING, Mich. — They are often oddly shaped and the target of critics who say they’re an example of politicians ‘gaming’ the system to their advantage.

Political districts—the boundaries that determine where you vote and who represents your voice in Lansing and Washington—are redrawn every 10 years after the census.

A new grassroots group called “Voters Not Politicians” is planning to launch a petition drive to get the issue in front of voters on the 2018 ballot. The group wants to create a commission led by citizens to handle legislative and congressional redistricting.

“The politicians who are drawing these lines obviously have something to gain from it by manipulating how they’re grouping communities,” said Katie Fahey, who is one of the co-founders of the group.

Fahey said the current system, which gives the party in power at the time of the census final authority on where district lines are drawn, serves the interests of politicians more than their constituents.

“There’s no public hearings that go on and these are decisions being made that impact that next 10 years of our state,” she said.

To get the issue on the ballot, the group will have to collect more than 315,000 valid signatures within a 180-day window.

Several meetings in cities across the state, including Grand Rapids, are scheduled in March and April to allow organizers to get feedback from voters before petition language is finalized.

“We are very committed to a commission that would be doing this that is removed from politics and it would have to remain non-partisan,” Fahey said.

Advocates of reform point to the Nov. 2016 election in the state House. Despite all 110 seats being on the ballot, just a handful were considered to be competitive races. Republicans managed to maintain their 63-47 majority with less than 5,000 vote separating Democrats and Republicans overall, according to data from the Michigan Secretary of State.

But Fahey says it’s not unique to Republicans in Michigan, pointing to Democrats in Maryland “doing the same thing.”

Bob LaBrant, a GOP consultant with decades of experience in redistricting in Michigan is skeptical of calls for reform.

“Let’s face it, redistricting is the most partisan, political activity in the state each decade and to somehow think we’re going to create sterile laboratory conditions is just crazy,” he said.

“They want some sort of political virgins that have never done anything political in their life.”

LaBrant contends the effort is targeting Republicans who’ve maintained their stronghold on state-level politics over the course of several cycles. The state’s district maps continue to be drawn using traditional guidelines of popular and counties as “building blocks” for boundaries, he said.

“Nobody was doing a petition drive in the ’80s and ’90s when Michigan politics was a lot more competitive and state legislative districts were drawn under the same criteria as they’re drawn today,” LaBrant told FOX 17.

“The only thing that’s changed is demographics. People are moving in with like minded people.”

LaBart said prior to the current system, redistricting in Michigan was left to a commission made up of Republican and Democratic appointees who would often deadlock.

Legislation to reform redistricting has stalled out in recent sessions.

This latest push comes as attorney and former state Democratic party chairman Mark Brewer tells FOX 17 he plans to file a lawsuit targeting Republican state officials for “unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering” related to the 2010-11 redistricting.