Fighting Gerrymandering in Michigan
PEOPLE VS. POLITICIANS: THE MICHIGAN EDITION
October 10, 2018
|By Ellen Moorhouse
Grassroots Communications Manager, RepresentUs
This November, we have the chance to unrig the system and usher in a new era of politics, where the system works for regular people and their families, not just a handful of special interests and billionaires. We’re seeing a wave of political reform that is unprecedented in modern history.
Michigan consistently ranks as one of the most “gerrymandered” states in the country—but Michiganders are leading an incredible grassroots campaign to fight against gerrymandering. It’s a real people-powered effort led by a coalition group called Voters Not Politicians who submitted over 425,000 signatures in support of an anti-gerrymandering initiative on the ballot this November.
The initiative came under attack when the Michigan Chamber of Commerce sued to remove the initiative off the ballot, but Represent Michigan members fought for their right to vote on the measure. Because of their efforts, gerrymandering reforms for Michigan’s 14 congressional districts have a real chance to impact the most seats in Congress this election season.
Here's why the fight against Gerrymandering in Michigan is so crucial—and how members across the nation are stepping up to defend these people-powered reforms.
WHAT IS GERRYMANDERING—AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?
Every 10 years, the legislature redraws election maps based off of updated census information. The party in power gets to draw the maps that ultimately end up electing them—the state legislature is currently in charge of drawing voting district lines in Michigan. That means politicians get to pick and choose their voters, instead of voters choosing their politicians. It's a huge conflict of interest—like letting a fox guard the henhouse.
The process is done entirely behind closed doors, leaving election maps vulnerable to partisan bias and manipulation. Michigan politicians take advantage of this opportunity and use big data and advanced computer programs to draw maps that virtually guarantee their re-election for the next decade.
This tactic - called “gerrymandering” - gives politicians an unfair advantage on Election Day long before voters even go to the polls. And when politicians no longer face competition to get re-elected, they have little incentive to listen to and work for their constituents. This frees up their time and energy to focus on lobbyists, special interests, and big donors.
WHAT HAPPENED IN MICHIGAN?
Don't worry, there's good news: Voters Not Politicians is a strong, bipartisan coalition in Michigan and they're working to stop gerrymandering in their state. Did you know that the Center for Public Integrity gave Michigan an "F" grade? The study calls the state: "An honor system with no honor," calling out shady dark money practices, lack of public financial disclosures, and heavily influences by lobbyists on politicians to enact legislation favorable to big special interests—and no one else.
Voters Not Politicians is a true example of what can happen when the people come together to make our systems more efficient. Katie Fahey, the coalition's founder, posted on Facebook in 2016 asking if anyone wanted to help organize to end gerrymandering by partisan politicians. To her surprise, the post went viral with people who wanted to help—and a statewide grassroots movement was born.
To qualify for the ballot, Voters Not Politicians needed to gather over 315,000 valid petition signatures in 180 days. In less than 120 days from August to December 2017, thousands of volunteers collected almost 450,000 signatures!
Voters Not Politicians got the anti-gerrymandering measure on the ballot—but then they faced a tough fight to keep it there. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce was determined to keep the rigged political system they benefit from, and sued to remove the initiative from the ballot.
But members of Represent Michigan launched into action to protect this crucial reform initiative. We took our message to the people, with a digital campaign that reached 1.5 million people with videos, press coverage, advertisements and even a tweet from Chris Pratt, who chimed in to support a local veteran standing against the lawsuit.
More than 5,000 people signed a petition demanding the Chamber drop their lawsuit, and RepresentUs members led a peaceful protest to deliver the signed petitions. We even drove a billboard truck through the streets outside the Michigan Supreme Court during oral arguments demanding the Chamber drop the suit and let the people vote.
The Chamber wasn't expecting all of this attention. Ultimately, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the people, and the anti-gerrymandering initiative is on the November 2018 ballot for voters’ consideration as Proposal 2.
A NATIONWIDE CALL TO UNRIG THE SYSTEM
Gerrymandering reform in Michigan is just the tip of the iceberg. 2018 is poised to be a historic year for political reform, and the beginning of the end for politics-as-usual.
This November, there are more than two dozen political reform efforts underway—that’s more than there have been since Watergate. Check out this page to see all of the campaigns RepresentUs members are supporting in the November 2018 election and how you can get involved:
- Comprehensive Anti-Corruption Acts in North Dakota and South Dakota;
- Anti-gerrymandering ballot measures in Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, and Utah;
- An ethics reform ballot measure in New Mexico;
- Money-in-politics ballot measures in Massachusetts, Denver, Phoenix, and Baltimore;
- Defending instant runoff voting in Memphis, Tennessee; and
- Automatic voter registration ballot measures in Michigan and Nevada.
The political establishment is fighting hard to stop game-changing reforms like these, and the people are fighting back. We've already won this year in Michigan, Maine, Alaska, and Ohio, with more local and statewide initiatives coming this November. We're leading the fight for anti-corruption laws in states, and history shows that federal reforms quickly follow.
We can win in Michigan, too—but only if we speak out and show the political establishment that the voters are watching—and that we demand our right to vote.