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How to end gerrymandering forever in just 2 easy steps

Nov 6, 2014

Hahaha! No. We're just kidding. 

It's really hard. 

But we were serious about there being only two steps. 

We looked into this question as part of our MI Curious project - people send in their questions about Michigan or its people, questions are put up for a vote, then we look into the winning question.

This time, the winning question came from Michael Bieri.

"What would it take to realistically end gerrymanding in Michigan?" 

For all you Democrats still in the fetal position after Tuesday's election, this part may offer some comfort: Michigan Democrats got more votes for the U.S. House than Republicans did.

But, Republicans woke up Wednesday morning with nine seats, while Democrats won just five.

For all you Democrats still in the fetal position after Tuesday's election, this part may offer some comfort: Michigan Democrats got more votes for the U.S. House than Republicans did.

How does that happen? Partly, it's because of gerrymandering. 

Understand gerrymandering in 20 seconds (ok, 29...)

We asked our resident political junkie, Zoe Clark, to explain gerrymandering.

In 20 seconds. She took a deep breath and went for it. 

"The U.S. has a census every 10 years. It's part of the Constitution.

"And in part it's to help apportion the country's 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Gerrymandering is the idea of drawing those political maps of the 435 seats for political advantage.

"If you draw the maps, you try to make sure your voters are in the majority in each district. Or you lump together your opposing voters so that their votes just don't go as far."

Step 1: change Michigan's constitution 

For the record, Zoe, that took 29 seconds, according to the iPhone stopwatch. 

"Our redistricting process is a scandal. It is probably the most appalling conflict of interest in public life in our country."

Now, other people have already tried to change gerrymandering in Michigan. Like Jim Townsend, a Democrat and a state representative from Royal Oak. 

"Our redistricting process is a scandal. It is probably the most appalling conflict of interest in public life in our country,” he says.  

He introduced a ludicrously optimistic bill that would change Michigan's constitution to end gerrymandering.

Rather than have politicians draw these maps, the amendment would assign the task to a nonpartisan commission – a process that works really well in Iowa. 

Obviously, that idea died a speedy legislative death. 

“It’s gone nowhere so far," says Townsend, who says he isn't surprised.

"It's hard to imagine the Legislature agreeing to reduce its power to ensure re-election for most of its incumbents."

"It’s hard to imagine the Legislature agreeing to reduce its power to ensure re-election for most of its incumbents.”

Now, if some some optimistic person could gather 318,000 signatures, they could get a constitutional amendment on the ballot to end gerrymandering.

Step 2: Raise big- time money 

Now that this is on the ballot, you’d need millions and millions of dollars.

“It can be a very expensive proposition," says Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. 

In 2012, political groups spent $150 million on ballot proposals.

"What this all boils down to is, we don't get the delegation we voted for."

Robinson is not a giddy optimist, but he thinks gerrymandering is getting so out of control in Michigan, that people might just rise up and fix it someday.

“And it might happen. It might happen. I mean, what this all boils down to is, we don’t get the delegation we voted for," he says. 

You can't change geography

Now, even if you made redistricting a totally fair process, some things would not change.

You’d still have a lot of Democrats clustered around cities like Detroit and Flint and Ann Arbor, and lots of other districts leaning more Republican. That’s just Michigan’s geography.

But still, if the maps weren't drawn by politicians, you could end up with a Michigan that's represented a little more evenly.

So there you have it, a game plan for ending gerrymandering. All you have to do is raise millions of dollars and change the state constitution.

No sweat, right?