WSW: Two Ballot Proposals Would Impact Future Elections In Michigan
Two proposals on the November ballot have to do with elections in Michigan. One would change the process for drawing new district lines for Congress and the State Legislature. The other would enshrine certain voting rights in the Michigan Constitution.
The Citizens Research Council of Michigan has analyzed both Proposal 2 and Proposal 3. The public policy organization’s president Eric Lupher spoke with WMUK’s Gordon Evans. Note: The air version of the interview above only covers Proposal 2. The discussion of Proposal 3 can be found below, there is also an extended version of the interview that covers both topics.
Proposal 2 would create an independent commission to draw the boundaries for Congressional and state Legislative districts. Lupher says some of the current requirements for redistricting would remain in place. That includes that districts be contiguous and compact and that they keep cities, counties and townships together as much as possible. But Proposal 2 also says districts should not have a partisan interest and should not favor nor disfavor an incumbent. The proposal states that “communities of interest” should be maintained. Lupher says communities of interest are not defined, but he says presumably the public will have the opportunity to make its case to the commission about what communities should be in the same district.
Lupher says the selection process for the commission is somewhat complicated. He says invitations are sent out by the Secretary of State, which will have administrative responsibilities for the commission. There is also an opportunity to apply on the Secretary of State’s website. Lupher says once applications are submitted, they have to be narrowed down to three categories, 60 Republicans, 60 Democrats and 80 independents. Lupher says the process is similar to jury selection. There are certain things that disqualify someone from the commission. Elected officials and their families are not eligible until they have been out of office for six years. The state House and Senate leadership from both parties can remove a certain number of people from the pool for whatever reason. Then a random selection after that process creates a 13 member commission made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents.
As for verifying the party affiliation or independence of candidates, Lupher says they have to sign a statement attesting that they are a Republican, Democrat or Independent. Lupher says a large pool and the random selection make it hard for anyone who wants to “game the system” to know they would get on the commission.
Lupher says once that commission is selected there will be “a lot of sunshine.” The redistricting commission’s meetings will be subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act, and their communications would be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. 10 public meetings would have to be held before the commission could start the work of district drawing maps. As far as coming to agreement on the new maps, Lupher says the process employs “game theory.” The commissioners will propose maps and rank them in order of preference. But if they can’t come to an agreement, one of the proposed maps would be chosen at random. Lupher says that’s a big risk for any member of the commission with partisan interests. He says that gives them incentive to reach an agreement.
The Citizen Research Council report says Proposal 2 presents voters with a choice of transparency and imposition against bias, or ac¬countability and efficiency. Lupher says the proposal does offer an open process. He says that transparency and removing the Legislature from the process could lead to maps that are fairer. But he says there will be a cost of $4.6-million a year to pay commissioners and cover expenses. That would only be for the time the commission is at work, and all legal challenges to the redistricting plan have finished. Lupher says it’s a question of “how much is Democracy worth to you?” He says accountability is a question before members of the commission can only be removed by vote of other commissioners, and it would take a vote of the 10 of the 13 commissioners to remove someone.
A debate on Proposal 2 was held Monday October 8th at Western Michigan University. It was hosted by the WMU’s Institute of Government and Politics. Katie Fahey of Voters Not Politicians, the group backing Proposal 2, and Tony Daunt of the Michigan Freedom Fund, which opposes the ballot initiative made their case. You can much of that debate in the audio file below.
Proposal 3 – Voting Access
Proposal 3 would amend the state Constitution and create a number of rights for the voters in Michigan. Lupher says those include a secret ballot, that military members get their ballots in time to return them, and an option for voting a straight party ticket. Citizens would automatically be registered to vote when they visit a Secretary of State branch office, though they could opt out. Lupher says people could register to vote anytime up to the date of the election, and if approved the proposal would allow no-reason absentee voting.
There will be no straight ticket voting option for this election. The state Legislature approved legislation to remove it from the ballot in 2016, although a court ruling prohibited the new law from being implemented for that election. An appeals court overturned that ruling, and allowed the law to stand for this year’s election. But if Proposal 3 is approved, the option to vote a straight party ticket would become part of Michigan's Constitution. Lupher says voters have used the straight ticket option in Michigan when they have it. He says voters in Detroit have used it more than in other places. But Lupher says it’s used in some places, that favor Republicans and others where voters tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
Lupher says even if voters favor the proposed changes in Proposal 3, they should consider whether or not amending the state Constitution is the best way to address them. He says once the state Constitution is amended, the only way to change it is to amend the Constitution again. Lupher says whether the Legislature puts a proposed amendment on the ballot, or it’s put before voters by collecting petition signatures, amending the state Constitution is a very cumbersome process. Lupher says the election process could change in the future. He says voters should consider whether amending the state Constitution precludes Michigan from identifying improvements to the election process made in other states.