Proposal 2 is an anti-gerrymandering initiative which will amend Michigan's Constitution after it was approved by voters on November 6th 2018. The initiative was created and campaigned for by Voters Not Politicians, a civil society group.
Problems and Purpose
Every decade new district voting maps are drawn by the Michigan state legislator to better reflect the Michigan’s changing demographics. However, the process is highly susceptible to gerrymandering, a practice, in which through various methods, ‘politicians stack the electoral deck in their favour’ (1). Redistricting in Michigan is the job of the elected state legislator which often exploits the exercise by drawing maps favourable to their own respective party. The stark problem of gerrymandering in Michigan is clear, with 50% of votes translating to 70% of elected positions (2) and despite winning by only 10,000 votes (out of 4.8 million voters) in the 2016 race, zero congressional seats were decided below a margin of 10% with 9/14 seats going to the Republican party (3). The Republican party controlled the state legislator during Michigan’s previous redistricting in 2011.
Voters Not Politician’s initiative, Proposal 2, seeks to end gerrymandering for future elections. Alongside Voters Not Politician’s initiative, there have been other attempts to combat gerrymandering. In a legal case, League of Women Voters v. Johnson, the League is challenging the 2011 Michigan district maps as contravening the first and 14th amendments suggesting ‘partisan gerrymandering inverts the constitutional order by allowing those in power to treat voters as pawns to be shuffled back a fourth’ (4). The final hearing will take place in February 2019.
Background History and Context
Gerrymandering is a constant issue throughout many US states, however, Michigan is routinely viewed as ‘among the nation’s worst’ (5). A ballot initiative known as Proposal 2, which was successfully voted into Michigan’s constitution on November 6 2018, envisages the power of redistricting given to a randomly selected, independent commission. The 13-member commission will consist of 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats and 5 Independents; with the aim of drawing up subjective and accurate districts to fit with the state’s demographics. The commissioners will work together in the spirit of consensus and compromise to create more representative district maps which will be used in subsequent elections over the following decade. The commission was inspired by a similar proposal in California called the Citizen Redistricting Commission (6). Similar ballot initiatives, with the aim of reducing gerrymandering, were also supported by voters in Colorado, Missouri, Ohio and Utah.
Getting Proposal 2 onto the ballot required the collection of 315,654 votes in 180 days, this threshold was met successfully. However, the proposal was also hit by a legal challenge filed by civil group, Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, suggesting the proposal was too complex and expensive to be considered on the ballot. After successfully defeating the lawsuit in the lower and supreme state court, Proposal 2 was put on the 6 November 2018 ballot and was passed with 61.3% of the vote.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
After receiving a positive response from her Facebook post castigating gerrymandering in Michigan, 29-year-old Katie Fahey, with no previous political experience (previously working in a recycling plant) formed the Civil society group Voters Not Politicians. Voters Not Politicians created and campaigned for Proposal 2 and presents itself as a bipartisan organisation, with the goal of letting ‘voters choose politicians, not the other way around’ (7).
Originally, Voters Not Politicians and its campaign for proposal 2 were funded by grassroots support, amassing 9,000 individual donors who collectively raised $15.64 million. Large, private donations also helped fund the organisation; significant donors include, Sixteen Thirty Fund ($5.52 million), Action Now Initiative ($5.09 million) and Kathryn Murdoch and Stacy Schusterman ($0.5 million respectively) (8). The group also received $250,000 from the National Democratic Redistributive Committee, a Democrat-aligned fund, which provoked criticism that Voters Not Politicians was, in fact, a partisan effort to remove the Republican party from state power.
Fundraising events were also organised for the local community, for example, a ‘Community Pint Night’ in which $1 from every pint was donated to Voters Not Politicians. Community-based fundraising projects, as well as helping to fund the campaign, also increased awareness of the initiative.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
According to Michigan’s constitution, for an initiative to be put on the ballot, a petition with 315,654 signatures must be collected within 180 days. Voters Not Politicians successfully surpassed this threshold, gaining 425,000 signatures. The initiative gained these signatures by mounting a grassroots campaign, with over 5,000 volunteers knocking on over 125,000 doors. These volunteers first sought to gain signatures and then turned their attention to campaigning in favour of Proposal 2 using similar methods, including, organising fundraising events and informing people about Proposal 2.
Participation has been described as the ‘perfect example of grass root organising’ (9). Volunteers consist predominantly of people outside full-time employment; often women who work part-time or have children, for example, Fahey’s Mum helped collect 700 signatures for the petition.
Methods and Tools Used
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What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The initiative, according to Voters Not Politicians founder, was inspired following a positive response to a Facebook post castigating Michigan’s gerrymandered voting districts (10). The campaign continues to use social media to engage with the public, for example through its Facebook account which boasts 15,300 likes (11). Through its Facebook page, Voters Not Politicians raises awareness of Proposal 2 by sharing educative videos explaining what gerrymandering is, why it is a problem, and how Proposal 2 seeks to change the status quo. The Facebook page also helps organise and raise awareness of events hosted by Voters Not Politician.
Local events were also held by Voters Not Politicians. These included ‘Terminate Gerrymandering with Arnold Schwarzenegger’, ‘Proposal 2 Infosessions’ and ‘Learn about Proposal 2 in a day with Katie Fahey’. These events, especially including high profile guest speakers like Arnold Schwarzenegger, increased Voters Not Politician’s engagement with the public and the local community as well as providing crucial information to allow citizens to make an informed decision of whether they would support Proposal 2.
The Proposal 2 initiative attracted interest from local, national and international press. Local press outlets, for example, the Detriot Metro Times (12), BridgeMi (13) and Michigan Radio (14); all of which were generally supportive of the initiative, widely reporting on its developments and interviewing Katie Fahey in several different reports. National media outlets also followed developments closely. In a short documentary for ‘Now This’, the ‘absurdity’ of Michigan’s voting districts were identified when Fahey is filmed jogging the distance of three districts in under just 46 seconds (15). International media outlets including the Guardian and The Economist (16), have also reported on the Voters Not Politician’s initiative.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Proposal 2 was on the November 6 2018 ballot and received a 61.3% yes vote, meaning it will amend Michigan’s constitution to create an independent redistricting authority, therefore making future elections, using maps drawn by the neutral committees, a lot more competitive. Increased competitiveness in previously structurally biased elections, could easily impact on future national elections. Michigan, along with Colorado, Missouri and Ohio (17) who voted to bring in similar anti-gerrymandering legislation, are considered swing states. Making voting maps more representative could easily change outcomes of future elections compared to if anti-gerrymandering initiatives were not passed.
With the success of Voters Not Politicians, it has proved to participants that grassroot movements can counter the supposed entrenched, ‘special political interests’; therefore, potentially encouraging participants to remain politically active. In newsletters distributed after proposal 2’s success, Voter Not Politicians emphasised to participants: ‘our work isn’t done’ and to make sure ‘as many Michiganders are empowered to participate as possible’.
Another interesting element of the campaign is the high numbers of women participating in Voters Not Politicians. This can be viewed as a national phenomenon which has been dubbed the ‘pink wave’ (18). However, Voters Not Politician’s success in passing Proposal 2 has helped to reinforce participants sense of political efficacy.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Despite Voters Not Politicians attempt to gain bipartisan support for the Proposal 2 initiative, there remained many critics. One criticism is of the proposals expense, costing an estimated $5.5 million a year, equivalent to 25% of the state’s annual budget (19). This is compared to the 2011 redistricting which had an overall cost of only $878,000 (20). The extra expense will be spent paying the 13 independent commissioners, as well as supporting the 10 public consultation meetings required for a new map to be confirmed. The addition of an independent commission will also lengthen the redistricting process considerably.
The initiative also survived a lawsuit filed by Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution. In its case against Proposal 2, the group argued that the initiative could not be put on the ballot due to its sheer complexity (21). However, the motion was defeated in the lower courts and then in the supreme court of Michigan after an appeal. Despite surviving a legal challenge, the Proposals complexity does present a difficult issue. The initiative amends sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Article IV, sections 1, 2 and 4 of Article V and sections 1 and 4 of Article VI of the state’s constitution. Such extensive changes will inevitably be difficult to implement, especially with a legislature in opposition to the proposal, just 24 days after its success at the ballot Voters Not Politicians distributed a newsletter warning of ‘lame duck politicians’ trying to sneak through legislation which would ‘undermine the voices of voters and manipulate the Commission and its operations’ (22). Issues of complexity and entrenched interests may complicate proposal 2’s implementation, however, the fact that a very similar initiative was successfully passed and functioning effectively in California (23) proves it is viable and possible to implement.
Republican claims that the initiative is, in fact, a partisan ruse to disadvantage the Republican party has mostly stemmed from the fact Voters Not Politicians received $250,000 from the National Democratic Redistribution Committee, a branch of the democratic party. These are reasonable concerns, however, the evidence of blatant gerrymandering and the clear attempts by Voters Not Politicians to appear to represent bipartisan interests suggests Proposal 2 is a good method to make elections more representative.
Proposal 2’s independent redistricting commission envisages a randomly selected board of 13 commissioners, critics have argued that giving the complicated task of redistricting to commissioners with no previous experience could be problematic and result in inaccurate district maps. Robert LaBrant, Republican political strategist, expressed this fear suggesting giving power to ‘absolute neophytes’ (24) would be irresponsible. Another issue identified with the initiatives plan to randomly select commissioners would mean they were obviously unelected and therefore unaccountable; however, this ignores the current issue of gerrymandering which has the potential of undermining the democratic accountability of politicians.
Proposal 2 as put forward by Voters Not Politicians and approved by the majority of voters will be expensive to implement and make the process of redistricting vastly more complex and cumbersome. However, the case of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission proves that the initiative can be implemented successfully. The gains in democratic legitimacy must also be acknowledged. If Proposal 2 is successful in reducing gerrymandering and making future elections more competitive, it has the potential of re-energising citizen’s interest in politics, encouraging them to participate in elections and political debate.
The ability for citizens with no previous political experience to successfully amend the constitution through the means of an initiative, reinforces a sense of political efficacy within the general population and suggests that democracy is not limited to a small political elite.
(1) Engstrom, E (2013). Partisan Gerrymandering and the Construction of American Democracy. London: University of Michigan Press. 195.
(2) Princeton Gerrymandering Project. (2016). Tests. Available: http://gerrymander.princeton.edu/tests/. Last accessed 23/10/18
(3) Roelofs, T. (2017). Gerrymandering in Michigan is among the nation’s worst, new test claims. Available: https://www.bridgemi.com/public-sector/gerrymandering-michigan-among-nations-worst-new-test-claims. Last accessed 23/10/18.
(4) League of Women Voters v. Johnson  28 U.S.C. § 2284(a) (United States District Court Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division), p.2. Available: https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legal-work/LWV_v_Johnson_Complaint_12.22.17.pdf
(5) Roelofs, T. (2017). Gerrymandering in Michigan is among the nation’s worst, new test claims. Available: https://www.bridgemi.com/public-sector/gerrymandering-michigan-among-nations-worst-new-test-claims. Last accessed 23/10/18.
(6) Wallace, M. (2012). California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Available: https://participedia.net/en/organizations/california-citizens-redistricting-commission. Last accessed 15/10/18.
(7) Voters Not Politicians . (2018). About. Available: https://www.votersnotpoliticians.com/about. Last accessed 15/10/18.
(8) Ballotpedia. (2018). Michigan Proposal 2, Independent Redistricting Commission Initiative (2018). Available: https://ballotpedia.org/Michigan_Proposal_2,_Independent_Redistricting_Commission_Initiative_(2018). Last accessed 16/10/18.
(9) Perkins, T. (2018). Inside the grassroots fight to end gerrymandering in Michigan: Toying with our elections. Available: https://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/inside-the-fight-to-end-gerrymandering-in-michigan/Content?oid=15892468. Last accessed 16/10/18.
(10) Beggin, R. (2018). One woman’s Facebook post leads to Michigan vote against gerrymandering. Available: https://www.bridgemi.com/public-sector/one-womans-facebook-post-leads-michigan-vote-against-gerrymandering. Last accessed 18/10/18.
(11) Voters Not Politicians (2018). Available: https://www.facebook.com/votersnotpoliticians/. Last accessed 18/10/18
(12) Detroit Metro Times (2018). Available: https://www.metrotimes.com/. Last accessed 15/10/18
(13) BridgeMi (2018). Available: https://www.bridgemi.com/. Last accessed 15/10/18
(14) 'Michigan Radio (2018). Available: http://www.michiganradio.org/. Last accessed 15/10/18
(15) NowThis (2018). Available: https://twitter.com/nowthisnews/status/1042504349920972800?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1042504349920972800&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fivn.us%2F2018%2F09%2F20%2Factivist-jogged-3-michigan-districts-show-absurdity-gerrymandering%2F Last accessed 17/10/18
(16)The Economist. (2018). Map Scrap: Ending Gerrymandering. Available: https://www.economist.com/united-states/2018/10/06/ending-gerrymandering. Last accessed 12/10/18.
(17) Henderson, B. Lawler, D. (2017). How does the US election work and what is a swing state? Available: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/how-does-the-us-election-work-and-which-swing-states-will-determ/. Last accessed 18/10/18.
(18) Peaker, H. (2018). This was a #Metoo election and those who say differently ignore the ‘Pink Wave’ at their peril. Available: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/politics/metoo-election-say-differently-ignore-pink-wave-peril/. Last accessed 23/10/18.
(19) Ballotpedia. (2018). Michigan Proposal 2, Independent Redistricting Commission Initiative (2018). Available: https://ballotpedia.org/Michigan_Proposal_2,_Independent_Redistricting_Commission_Initiative_(2018). Last accessed 16/10/18.
(20) Citizens Research Council of Michigan (2018). Statewide Ballot Proposal 2018-2 — Redistricting. P. 9. Available: https://crcmich.org/PUBLICAT/2010s/2018/memo1150-redistricting_proposal.pdf. Last accessed 13/10/18
(21) Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution v. Secretary of State & Michigan Board of State Canvassers  (Michigan Court of Appeals) Available: https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legal-work/CPMC_v_SOS_Complaint-for-Mandamus.pdf
(22) Voters Not Politicians. [email protected] Special interests are trying to undermine the voters again. 30/10/2018.
(23) Wallace, M. (2012). California Citizens Redistricting Commission. Available: https://participedia.net/en/organizations/california-citizens-redistricting-commission. Last accessed 15/10/18.
(24) Eggert, D. (2017). Anti-Gerrymandering Group Defies Odds With 2018 Ballot Drive. Available: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/michigan/articles/2017-11-20/anti-gerrymandering-group-defies-odds-with-2018-ballot-drive. Last accessed 18/10/18.
Voters Not Politicians: https://www.votersnotpoliticians.com/
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