It appears the late conservative icon William F. Buckley is about to get validation, from an unexpected source, of one of his most famous “bon mots.”
Buckley said he’d rather be governed by people picked at random from the Boston telephone book than by the Harvard University faculty.
There is good reason to believe Michigan’s new independent commission charged with redistricting Congressional and legislative districts after the 2020 census will be composed of citizens, chosen lottery-style, who won’t meet the criteria promised in Proposal 2 approved by the state’s voters last November.
At least one influential critic claims that Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s application form (to be a commissioner) falls far short in seeking demographic information from those who want to serve.
More demographic categories must be added to the application to achieve a redistricting commission that actually mirrors Michigan’s diversity, according to a “public comment” submitted to Benson by longtime attorney/election law guru Bob LaBrant.
Here are LaBrant’s comments in their entirety:
“The Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission was established when voters adopted Proposal 2 on the November 6, 2018, statewide ballot. The Commission will consist of 13 individuals, who within the last six years have had no partisan governmental or political experience or have any close family relatives who do.
“Those 13 individuals are to be randomly selected by the Secretary of State using “accepted statistical weighting methods to ensure that the three pools (Republican, Democratic and no-party affiliation) of applicants as closely as possible mirror the geographic and demographic make-up of the state.”
The constitutional amendment does not detail what specific demographic questions will be asked on the application. The text of the proposed amendment only says the Secretary of State shall make applications available to the general public no later than January 1 of the year of the federal decennial census (January 1, 2020).
“Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson claims that, under the 2018 amendment, she is not required to ask for public comment on the draft Commissioner application that is posted on her department’s website, but in the interest of transparency she will accept public comment on her proposed Commissioner application until August 9, 2019.
“Although not specifically addressed in the 2018 constitutional amendment, a case can be made that the Secretary of State is not exempt in her limited redistricting role, as the Secretary of State, from the Michigan Administrative Procedures Act (rulemaking, notice, comment, judicial review). Is she suggesting that choosing which demographic characteristic to select or omit from the Commissioner application is subject only to her whim? Hard to believe that, as a former law school dean, Secretary Benson would maintain that the inclusion or exclusion of a question is not subject to judicial review, since the U.S. Supreme Court recently reviewed a legal challenge to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census form under the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Her decision in this draft application to prohibit all precinct delegates and their close relatives from submitting Commissioner applications may or may not be correct, but that prohibition should be subject to APA rulemaking.
“The 2018 constitutional amendment says the Commission should be made up of Commissioners who reflect Michigan’s demographic and geographic diversity.
“The 2018 redistricting amendment does not specifically define “demographic.” Absent a definition in the text of the constitution, the Michigan Supreme Court says to look to the term’s ordinary meaning, including its dictionary definition.
“Demographic information refers to the statistics that describe a population and can be used to divide that population into different groups. Examples of demographic information include age, gender, race, income, marital status, educational attainment and political preference.”
“Secretary Benson’s draft application is extremely thin on questions asking about the demographic characteristics of an applicant — limiting them to just four categories: age, voting address, gender and race. These categories are so thin that it fails to meet the constitutional requirement that the Commission “should mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state.”
“The Commissioner application as currently written does not meet the test of ensuring diversity because the draft application fails to ask at all about such demographic characteristics as educational attainment, income, veteran or disability status.
“The demographic questions currently asked in the draft application would permit all 13 Commissioners to be millionaires or, in the other extreme, all 13 Commissioners could have incomes below the poverty level. Without having a question on educational attainment, all 13 Commissioners could have Ph.D.’s or all 13 Commissioners could be high school dropouts.
“Secretary of State Benson should revise her draft Redistricting Commissioner Application. In revising the application, she need not look any farther than the U. S. Census Bureau’s Michigan Electorate Profile and use the same categories found in that profile based upon the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey. Using those same categories, here is what the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission would likely look like:
% 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% Ten Commissioners
Black 13.9% Two Commissioners
Other One Commissioner
American Indian 1.2%
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 2018 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, Two Commissioners
Lansing, Battle Creek, Mt. Pleasant, Jackson, Monroe
Northern Lower Michigan & the U.P. One Commissioner
“Modeling the Commissioner application to reflect the same categories found in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Michigan Electorate Profile would ensure a Commission that is a true reflection of Michigan’s diverse population.
“The two optional questions included in the draft application (1) Why you politically identify with a party or do not?, and (2) Why you want to serve on the Commission?) are unfortunately irrelevant because those subjective personal “essays” have no constitutional basis in a strictly random selection process. The only rationale offered for these two essays is to give the four legislative leaders something to consider when each leader gets to blackball up to five semi-finalists out of a field of 200 applicants who have survived the statistically weighted random draw.
“We need to remember that, unlike the California Independent Redistricting Commission, the 2018 Michigan redistricting amendment (Proposal 2) does NOT require anyone to have experience, training, education, specialized skills or expertise. Selection as a Commissioner is based entirely on an applicant’s geographic residence and the demographic characteristics they possess.
“Under the 2018 redistricting amendment, an applicant does not ever have a face-to-face job interview. This is in sharp contrast with a thorough personal interview process that Independent Redistricting Commissioner applicants have in California, but that was the choice of the drafters of (Michigan’s) Proposal 2 to make Commissioner selection purely random.
“The draft application DOES make a non-binding attempt to get applicants to pledge in their application (1 e. and 1 f.) that he or she will, if selected, act impartially, with integrity, and will work collaboratively with their fellow Commissioners to reach a consensus. Again, there is no constitutional basis for those non-binding pledges in the application, and they should be deleted in favor of adding more demographic categories to the application.”