Story by Elizabeth Walztoni, Reporter
Photo courtesy of Michael McCluskey
In tumultuous political times, it is easy to feel as though there is nothing we can do to change circumstances with which we do not agree. However, the ability to make a visible change in Michigan exists for all of us in the Voters Not Politicians anti-gerrymandering campaign. Those involved at Aquinas hope it can reinvigorate belief in integrity and effectiveness of our democracy.
Gerrymandering is the intentional redrawing of voting districts to produce a particular election outcome. It manifests in different ways; politicians separate groups of voters in such a manner that they cannot form a majority, or lump voting blocs together to create a majority when there isn’t one. Candidates themselves can be moved away from their home districts, or assigned to an area where another member of their party is running to eliminate their competition with opposing parties. It is not a partisan crime; both major parties have participated in gerrymandering throughout our state and beyond.
Redistricting occurs every ten years after the United States census with the intent of accurately representing voters. Michigan is one of 37 states that allows local politicians to draw these lines themselves, which is a fundamental conflict of interest, according to Aquinas Political Science Professor Dr. Molly Patterson. A case regarding the issue is currently in front of the Supreme Court, but, as Dr. Patterson warns, don’t expect it to fix the problem. This clash will remain unless power is placed back in the hands of constituents.
That’s where Voters Not Politicians comes in. Founded by Katie Fahey, an Aquinas alumna, the organization is proposing a ballot measure that would create a commission of citizens to determine districts. To become a measure, the initiative must collect 315,654 signatures across the state by February. That measure would then require a majority “yes” vote in the 2018 general election, making it an amendment to the Michigan constitution. Petitions such as these do not often succeed, and even more rarely those with no paid individuals collecting signatures — but Voters Not Politicians has found grassroots success.
One of its volunteer petitioners is Claudia Boerigter, a junior at Aquinas. She became involved because she wants to see a country where our votes matter and we have fair representation from our congressmen. She finds the campaign inspiring because it connects her to people who are “just as passionate about making sure our democracy works.” This is rare, as both she and Dr. Patterson have observed widespread apathy towards the political system.
Disillusionment in the integrity of our government structures is the “fundamental challenge” facing the United States today, according to Dr. Patterson.
“Our future as a democracy rests on people caring about it and being willing to do the work, and if it is left on autopilot, we will end up with a system we did not choose and do not want,” Dr. Patterson said. To begin fixing the system, we must engage with it.
In the case of gerrymandering, Patterson believes being informed is half the battle. She urges students to educate themselves and others on the issue. Boerigter adds that registering to vote and participating in local elections are also vital.
If you are interested in becoming a part of the Voters Not Politicians campaign directly, or would like more information, contact Claudia Boerigter at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit votersnotpoliticians.com.