It may well be, unless certain questions can be answered.
Controversy over how to reapportion Michigan’s Congressional and legislative districts every decade has existed for almost as long as Michigan has been a state. Delegates to the 1961-62 state Constitutional Convention thought they had the problem solved.
They didn’t come close. Now, the most recent attempt is the voter-approved Proposal 2. Its sponsors —the organization known as Voters Not Politicians (VNP) — think they have achieved the “Final Solution.” But just as debate once raged over whether World War I really was “The War to End All Wars” (it obviously wasn’t), there is reason to question whether the new language in the state Constitution imposed by Proposal 2 really WILL get the job done, or make it worse than ever.
Let’s start with who will serve on the Redistricting Commission that will draw the new maps after the 2020 Census.
Redistricting Commissioners are to be selected by Benson based solely on a statistically-weighted random drawing that will produce 13 individuals who, within the last six years, have had no governmental or political experience, nor will they have any “close family relatives” who do. However, the Commissioners must “reflect the state’s diverse geographic and demographic characteristics.”
The proposed amendment does not detail what specific demographic questions will be asked on the application. The text of the proposed amendment says only that Benson shall make applications available to the general public no later than January 1 of the year of the federal decennial census (that would be January 1, 2020). Does Benson get to write the application without any statutory or administrative rule in place defining the demographic categories?
What kind of demographic questions (age, race, gender, disability status, educational level, income, etc.) will Secretary Benson ask on the Commissioner application? Will she use the same categories used in the American Community Survey employed by the U.S. Census Bureau to create its Michigan Electorate Profile? Does anyone other than the Secretary of State have input as to the content of the application?
The U.S. Census Bureau in its most recent Michigan Electorate Profile found Michigan’s median family income to be $50,803. That means half of the 13 Commissioners will come from households at or above that median income level and the other six or seven Commissioners will come from households below the median income level. Nearly 15% of households in Michigan currently live below the poverty line (poverty line in Michigan is defined as $16,000 for a single person and $24,250 for a family of four). If the Commission is to truly mirror the state’s demographics, that 15% translates into two Commissioners on the 13-member Redistricting Commission coming from applicants whose household income is at or below the poverty level.
Only 27.4% of the Michigan electorate possess a bachelor’s or higher degree (masters or doctorate) in educational attainment. That means only four Commissioners will be selected who hold a bachelor’s or higher degree. The other nine Commissioners will not have attained a college degree. With that restriction, the Redistricting Commission may have the lowest level of educational attainment of any public board or commission in state government.
Proposal 2 supporters have said commission selection will be akin to jury selection. Not true. A prospective juror is subject up-front to “voir dire” by the judge or both sides in a case and can be excused under a pre-emptory challenge, or for cause. The four legislative leaders each get to strike five applicants from the final 200 names. Five won’t be nearly enough.
Here is what the Commission will look like if it actually reflects, as it claims it will, the U. S. Census Bureau’s Michigan Electorate Profile based upon its most recent 2016 American Community Survey:
% of the Michigan Electorate
Male 48.65% — Six Commissioners
Female 51.35% — Seven Commissioners
18-24 years 18% — Two Commissioners
25-44 years 26.2% — Three Commissioners
45-64 years 35.9% — Five Commissioners
65 years and over 19.9% — Three Commissioners
Race and Hispanic origin
White 79.3% — 10 Commissioners
Black 13.9% — Two Commissioners
American Indian 1.2% — One Commissioner
Median household income (MHI) $52,492
Higher than MHI — At least Six Commissioners
Lower than MHI At least — Six Commissioners
Income below the poverty level 13.3 % —Two Commissioners
Bachelor’s degree or higher 28.3% — Four Commissioners
Less than a college degree 71.7% — Nine Commissioners
Veteran Status 7.2% — One Commissioner
Disability status 14.5% — Two Commissioners
Political Party allocation required in the VNP amendment:
Self-identified Republicans — Four Commissioners
Self-identified Democrats — Four Commissioners
Self-identified as having no party affiliation — Five Commissioners
Wayne, Oakland, Macomb Counties — Five Commissioners
Thumb, Genesee, Saginaw, Bay, and surrounding counties — Two Commissioners
West Michigan-Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Holland, Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor, etc. — Three Commissioners
Mid-Michigan- Ann Arbor, Brighton, Lansing, Battle Creek, Mt. Pleasant, Jackson, Monroe, etc. — Two Commissioners
Northern Lower Michigan & the U.P. — One Commissioner
In other words, the VNP amendment does not require anyone to have experience, training, education, skills or expertise. Selection as a commissioner is based entirely on an applicant’s geographic residence and the demographic characteristics s/he possesses, along with a lot of random luck.
In Michigan, an applicant will not not even have a face-to-face job interview. This is in sharp contrast with a thorough interview process that applicants for Independent Redistricting Commissions have in California and Arizona. No one will ever know if an applicant is a bigoted social misfit until the first meeting of the Commission if that person is somehow randomly drawn as a Commissioner.
In sum, the VNP proposal is an attempt to enshrine what is called “identity politics” in the Michigan Constitution. Opting for a commission where no commissioner has governmental or political experience is an invitation to failure. It is part of a disturbing trend in Michigan to use the initiative petition process to amend the Michigan Constitution to “dumb down” Michigan government. Most recently, that has manifested itself as term limits, efforts to create a “part-time” Legislature, and now what its champions are calling an “Independent Redistricting Commission.”
It will be fought tooth-and-nail every step of the way by its opponents as unconstitutional. This litigation seems certain to drag on for months, probably years. But that’s not the worst part. It’s the remapping plans the commission will produce — there will be an unrelenting legal assault against them forever that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The news media, however, will love the new maps — they will be an endless source of print fodder and mindless pontificating by clueless reporters and editors.
Clearly, Proposal 2 was designed not to enlist Michigan’s best and brightest for the task of redistricting, but rather to draft to the lowest common denominator. This is what voters said last November they wanted, so, however this turns out, they’ll deserve what they get.