About 50 people came to a Democracy Reform Town Hall on March 11 to hear more from leaders of the anti-gerrymandering effort, which operated under the Voters Not Politicians group. The town hall at Herrick District Library is one of many taking place across the state over the next few months, said Jamie Lyons-Eddy, director of campaigns for Voters Not Politicians.
“It was the right time, and it was something so powerful, the (state) Legislature would never do, they like it the way it is,” Lyons-Eddy said. “It was the perfect time, the perfect issue, and awareness raised up at the same time.”
Republicans and Democrats have agreed that gerrymandering is a problem and has played a role in political lines that have been drawn in Michigan. Even in “normal-looking” districts that are affected less by gerrymandering, residents were very supportive of the anti-gerrymandering initiative, Lyons-Eddy said.
The main goal of Voters Not Politicians was achieved with the passage of the redistricting reform amendment to Michigan’s Constitution. This was done with more than 425,000 signatures gathered, $15 million raised from 14,000 individual donors and 6,500 volunteers. The main focus of the group now is to carry out the amendment it put together to make gerrymandering illegal in Michigan.
With all of the support and infrastructure built around the issue, Voters Not Politicians has plans to do more. The group is mainly focusing on carrying out the new constitutional amendment, but is exploring other nonpartisan democracy reform, specifically in the following areas: ethics and transparency in government, money in politics, and voting rights.
“This is the opportunity if you’re a person who wants to be involved in nonpartisan democracy reform,” Lyons-Eddy said. “We have the volunteers and the infrastructure; we have the ability to continue to make change.”
They would like to get something on the 2020 ballot.
“We have to do it right,” Lyons-Eddy said.
After the 2020 Census, the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will be put together to draw new district lines. Four Democrats, four Republicans and five citizens who are not affiliated with either party will comprise the committee. Through a series of randomly selected applicants, committee members will not be anyone heavily involved with a special interest group or political candidate.
“The intent is that anybody who really has skin in the game politically is excluded from serving on the commission,” Lyons-Eddy explained. “The intent is to move politicians out of the process.”
There will also be a requirement that 10 public hearings must take place before maps are drawn, and five after. The maps will not be able to favor a political party, candidate or incumbent, and will have to follow county, township and city lines as closely as possible.
The Secretary of State’s Office is working on the application, which will be available no later than January 2020. There will be applications available for people to apply on their own, and applications will also be mailed out with the intention of “building as much diversity into the process as possible,” Lyons-Eddy said.
From there, applications will go through a statistical weighting process, which has not been determined yet, but will be disclosed to the public, said Scott Reynolds, a lawyer who helped write language in the redistricting amendment.
The Secretary of State’s Office has a purely (administrative) function,” Reynolds said. “All they do is apply the criteria, they’re not involved. I’ve seen some misconception that somehow the Secretary of State’s Office will be involved with selecting the committee. They’re only carrying out the criteria.”
Besides forming the committee that will redraw district lines, the implementation plan will also include defending the constitutional amendment in any legal challenges and educating the community, Lyons-Eddy said. People have to know to apply, she said.
When it comes to pushing for other issues, democracy reform will be the focus, Lyons-Eddy said.
“We think by doing that, lots of other problems will get solved naturally if the government starts working the way it’s supposed to work,” she said.