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Can Michigan terminate gerrymandering? Analysis of Proposal 2

October 25th, 2018, 9:43am by Sam Wang


The Princeton Gerrymandering Project is hitting the road! This week, members of my team are going to Michigan and California to investigate redistricting reform on the ground. We’re helping students of the Woodrow Wilson School as they evaluate best practices for how to implement an independent commission, which is on the ballot in Michigan.

Overall, it’s a great step forward for the Wolverine State. Here’s a our analysis of the proposal’s merits – and one area to keep an eye on. (Here are our detailed comments on the initiative as PDF and Word documents. Also see our analysis of Colorado Amendments Y and Z.)

Michigan is a diverse state, with unique population patterns. It’s also home to one of the worst partisan gerrymanders in the nation, thanks to single-party control of the redistricting process. A grassroots organization, Voters Not Politicians, aims to change that. They gathered signatures to qualify Proposal 2 for the ballot, a measure that will establish an independent redistricting commission. Voters get to decide, as well as choose a new governor, in less than two weeks.

We have evaluated the proposal in detail. It’s based on the California commission, a model redistricting effort. There’s a lot to like about the Michigan measure. The basics of the commission are similar to California’s: a three-part commission of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, and all three groups are needed to approve a legislative or Congressional plan. The commission must take into account a variety of factors, emphasizing fair representation for communities of interest and lack of partisan bias. Compactness is important too, but to a lesser extent, which places an emphasis on communities and people over how they are arranged. Michigan has tremendous variations in population density, making it hard to join communities in some cases.

One area of future concern is the affiliation of commissioners. Michigan does not require citizens to give a partisan affiliation when they register to vote. It may be hard to identify Democrats and Republicans. More important, it will be a challenge to identify good commissioners for the independent group. Most independent voters have some partisan leaning, and some bias may be unavoidable. However, the secretary of state (who selects a pool of commissioner candidates from which commissioners will be drawn at random) may want to take care to cull out “independents” with a history of strong partisanship.

Overall, Proposal 2 is a strong effort. It could help usher in fair representation and terminate gerrymandering in Michigan!

Tags: 2018 Election · Redistricting

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