Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Building blocks of democracy

This wouldn't be the ad you'd put up in California (too entirely pale), but it is great to see Michigan anti-gerrymandering activists trying to win a more fair system of drawing districts through the initiative process. Michael Wines reports that five states are voting on these measures this year.

In Michigan, for example, Voters Not Politicians arose from a single Facebook post that its founder, Katie Fahey, dashed off in 2016; it mushroomed into a campaign that held 33 town-hall meetings across the state, recruited 12,000 volunteers and raised close to $1 million, most of it from small donors.

The group’s proposed remedy is similar to what has been advanced in the other states: amending the state constitution to turn responsibility for drawing political boundaries over to a citizens’ commission composed of Democrats, Republicans and independents or small-party supporters. The panel would be barred from giving any political party an advantage, and would judge its work using “accepted measures of partisan fairness.”

The state attorney general and the state chamber of commerce sued to block the proposal, saying that it is illegally broad. A lower court unanimously rejected that argument; the case is now before the state Supreme Court, which held a hearing about it last week.

This is a conservative-dominated court; these enthusiasts could still lose. But they have a lot of momentum. People want a more fair system.

California reformed its boundary drawing procedures through an initiative passed in 2008. We needed this. Our state legislative and Congressional districts drawn after the 2000 census utilized a slightly different anti-democratic principle than partisan advantage: they were drawn to protect all the incumbents of both parties then in office. And this worked spectacularly. In the entire decade of the 2000s, only one incumbent Congressperson was unseated by a challenger. The new California districts drawn after 2010 shook things up; several incumbents found themselves doubled up, competing against another sitting legislator. It will be interesting to see how much boundaries change again after the 2020 census when they are redrawn again by the Citizens Redistricting Commission. All sides will lobby and jostle for advantage, but last time the commission did its job surprisingly fairly.

UPDATE-July 31: Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to keep the citizen proposal on the ballot! On to November.

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