Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution v. Secretary of State

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At a Glance

CLC is supporting a grassroots organization's effort to put a proposed ballot initiative on the ballot in Michigan that would create an independent redistricting commission.

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About this Case

A grassroots organization named Voters Not Politicians (VNP) has proposed a ballot initiative in Michigan that would create an independent redistricting commission. After VNP collected sufficient signatures and submitted their initiative to be put on the general election ballot in November, a group named Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC) sued. CPMC is attempting to knock the proposal off the ballot. This group asserts that voters should not be allowed to decide on this measure because creating an independent redistricting commission is too broad to be an “amendment” to the Michigan constitution and constitutes a “revision.” They also argue that there are not accepted measures of partisan fairness. CPMC has lost its case in the Michigan Court of Appeals and is now appealing to the Michigan Supreme Court.

CLC is submitting a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of VNP. We attempt to contextualize the proposal as a solution within the rising threat of gerrymandering. In previous rounds of redistricting, map drawers had to rely on pen, paper, and political intuition.

Gerrymandering is easier than ever before. Now, people intending to gerrymander electoral maps can use real time mapdrawing software loaded up with political data from previous elections and watch in real time as partisan outcomes change as they manipulate the map. This has resulted in the worst gerrymandering in history after the 2010 round of redistricting.

This problem is only likely to get worse. Computer speeds continue to increase. Computer programmers are creating new software that can automatically generate thousands of maps that follow prescribed law quickly and easily. Machine learning technology will soon allow computers to recreate these maps, making them progressively more biased, creating near-perfect gerrymanders.

There is a better way. Independent redistricting commissions take the political incentives out of redistricting. Laws can do one step better by asking - as the VNP proposal does - that these commissions check their work using accepted measures of partisan fairness. These measures, such as the efficiency gap, the mean-median difference, and partisan bias, are simple to compute and capture the degree of partisan fairness (or unfairness) in one number. They are accepted by political scientists, by courts, and are being implemented by ballot initiatives across the country.

Independent redistricting commissions using such measures to check their work are a sensible and democratic way out of the morass created by partisan actors and computer technology. These commissions take the power of redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators, who have proven that they will use the process to gain power when given the opportunity to do so. They give the power to the citizens to choose their representatives.

The citizens of Michigan are well within their rights to ask that this method of redistricting be used in their state. If they are knocked off the ballot, Michigan voters may have no recourse to ensure they get a fair map during the coming round of redistricting.

Learn more about independent redistricting commissions.

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