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Gerrymandering in Michigan: understanding Proposal 2

a graphic showing the difference in district lines with perfect voter representation vs. gerrymandering. The gerrymandered district shows that although red is the minority, it wins against the majority, blue.

Story by Erin Dwan, Reporter
Photo courtesy of WashingtonPost.com

Most people wouldn’t guess that the term “gerrymandering” came from a joke made in an 1812 political cartoon, especially because gerrymandering is such a serious issue that deeply impacts the power of the common person’s vote. The word “gerrymander” came about when the Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill to redistrict Boston to benefit his political party. A political cartoon compared the shape of the most strangely-shaped district to a salamander, and with the combination of the words “Gerry” and “salamander,” the “gerrymander” was born.

Gerrymandering is the process by which a party in power draws up voting districts in a way that benefits their party. By engaging in gerrymandering, the party in control chooses its electorate and disenfranchises people who tend to vote for the party that is not in control.

Historically, this has resulted in the disenfranchisement of ethnic and racial minorities, and from the Jim Crow South to modern-day Detroit, many would argue that this phenomenon is still occurring. This systematic reduction of voters’ power happens because these gerrymandered districts are designed to include desired votes while excluding others.

Gerrymandering is often easy to spot because it results in oddly-shaped districts that don’t make sense geographically. These districts do not comply with the idea that compact districts tend to represent people more equally than eccentrically-shaped districts.

An example of one of these gerrymandered, rambling districts is Michigan’s 14th Congressional District, which is located in the Detroit area. This district extends from Pontiac across to Grosse Pointe and doubles back around to include a narrow portion of Detroit’s central city, creating a vaguely S-shaped design.

Although it may seem discouraging to realize that politicians may choose your vote as opposed to your vote choosing politicians, there is something that can be done to stop gerrymandering in Michigan and reclaim the power of your vote. In the 2018 Midterm Elections this November, Proposal 2 — which is a proposed Michigan constitutional amendment — is your opportunity to vote for or against the creation of a commission to stop gerrymandering.

The passage of Proposal 2 would create a commission of randomly-selected citizens that would reassign district boundaries every 10 years in accordance with population data from the U.S. Census. This commission would be made up of 13 people: 4 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 5 Independents, who would take the job of redistricting from the lawmakers it formerly belonged to. Employees, relatives, or people with other affiliations with politicians would be prevented from serving on this committee.

If Proposal 2 goes through, Michigan would join the 21 other states that use bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions to redraw district lines.

Another important part of Proposal 2 would establish new redistricting criteria. These criteria include the requirement that districts to be compact and of equal population, thus reflecting Michigan’s diverse electorate. They also require that the districts do not give any party disproportionate advantage over another.

Gerrymandering is regarded by many as a nonpartisan issue because it is widely agreed upon that everyone, regardless of party alignment, deserves the right to vote and have that vote count. To vote in favor of ending gerrymandering in Michigan, you can vote “yes” on Proposal 2 on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

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