Nick Krieger (@nckrieger) & Nate Smith-Tyge (@smithtyge):
In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission last month, just about everyone seems to be talking about the need for redistricting reform in Michigan.
And for good reason. At the November 2014 general election, 3,089,477 Michigan residents voted for the office of United States Representative in Congress, 3,039,377 Michigan residents voted for the office of state senator, and 3,026,423 Michigan residents voted for the office of state representative.
Of the electors who cast votes for the office U.S. Representative in Congress, 1,466,749 (47.4%) voted for the Republican candidate, 1,519,030 (49.2%) voted for the Democratic candidate, and 103,698 (3.4%) voted for a third-party candidate. Yet of the 14 members of Congress elected from Michigan in 2014, nine (64%) are Republicans and only five (36%) are Democrats. In other words, even though 49.2% of Michiganians voted for the Democratic candidate for Congress, Democrats make up only 36% of Michigan’s congressional delegation.
The Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives election results tell a similar story. Of the electors who cast votes for the office of state senator, 1,530,712 (50.4%) voted for the Republican candidate, 1,486,205 (48.9%) voted for the Democratic candidate, and 22,460 (0.7%) voted for a third-party candidate. Yet of the 38 members elected to the Michigan Senate in 2014, 27 (71%) are Republicans and 11 (29%) are Democrats. In other words, even though 48.9% of Michiganians voted for a Democrat for state senator, only 29% of the individuals elected to the Michigan Senate are Democrats.
And consider the results of the Michigan House of Representatives races. Of the electors who cast votes for the office of state representative statewide, 1,467,591 (48.5%) voted for the Republican candidate, 1,541,018 (50.9%) voted for the Democratic candidate, and 17,814 (0.6%) voted for a third-party candidate. But of the 110 members elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2014, 63 (57%) are Republicans and 47 (43%) are Democrats. Hence, although a majority of Michigan electors voted for the Democratic candidate for state representative, Democrats make up only 43% of the Michigan House of Representatives.
How could this be? These lopsided election numbers are attributable to one cause more than any other: Partisan gerrymandering—the process by which one party draws legislative district boundaries to benefit its own candidates. Because the GOP held majorities in both the Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives in 2011, Republicans drew the district lines for Congress and the state legislature. Naturally, the districts were gerrymandered, resulting in the dilution of Democratic votes. So what’s the moral of the story? The party that draws the legislative district lines controls our government.
Many people agree that the most effective tool to combat the ills of partisan gerrymandering is to establish an independent redistricting commission to draw Michigan’s state legislative and congressional district boundaries. We completely agree. But first, here’s a little background.
Despite what you might have read over the last few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Arizona Legislature had absolutely nothing to do with the drawing of state legislative districts. The decision was limited to one question: Does the Elections Clause of Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution confer upon state legislatures the sole authority to draw congressional districts in their respective states? A majority of the Supreme Court answered that question in the negative, holding that the people of the state of Arizona were constitutionally entitled to take the power of drawing congressional districts away from the Arizona Legislature as an institution and vest it exclusively in an independent redistricting commission.
Because the Elections Clause pertains only to the times, places, and manner of electing United States Representatives and Senators, it has nothing to say about the drawing of state legislative districts. Instead, state law alone tells us who must draw state legislative districts.
Here’s something else that might have struck you as confusing. Several commentators have recently written about independent redistricting commissions in other states, and many of them have concluded that it’s high time for Michigan to get with the program. By and large, their articles convey the impression that Michigan is somehow behind the times in the move toward fair, nonpartisan redistricting. As Nick has written previously, this is at least half wrong. In reality, Michigan was one of the very first states to vest the authority to apportion the legislature and draw state legislative districts in a bipartisan redistricting commission.
Article 4, section 6 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963 provided that a bipartisan apportionment commission would be impaneled once every 10 years to draw the state’s house and senate districts. The commission would consist of four Republicans and four Democrats (and would also include four additional members if any third party received more than 25 percent of the vote in the previous gubernatorial election). The commission was required to adopt a plan of redistricting by majority vote. In the event that a majority of the commissioners could not agree on a plan, the Michigan Supreme Court was directed to choose a redistricting plan before the next election.
The commission met several times, but repeatedly deadlocked along party lines and was therefore unable to fulfill its constitutional function. Eventually, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the section of the Michigan Constitution establishing the commission and declared that the Legislature would be responsible for adopting its own redistricting plans after each federal census. For further discussion of the history of Michigan’s bipartisan redistricting commission, please see Nick’s previous posts.
Given Michigan’s experience with a bipartisan apportionment commission, and the gerrymandered nature of our current congressional and state legislative districts, we propose the following framework for a reconstituted redistricting commission within the Michigan Constitution:
Structure of Commission
We propose that the reconstituted commission would consist of either 9 or 13 members, all of whom would be registered voters of this state.
Eight (or 12) members of the commission would be selected in the following manner: Four members would be selected by the state central committees of each of the two political parties whose candidates for governor received the greatest number of votes at the most recent gubernatorial election. If a candidate for governor of a third political party received more than 25 percent of the vote at the most recent gubernatorial election, then 4 additional members would be selected by the state central committee of that third political party.
The final member of the commission would serve as its chairperson. The chairperson of the commission would be chosen from a list of 4 registered voters without party affiliation prepared and submitted by the board of state canvassers. Each member of the board of state canvassers would submit the name of one person who, within the preceding 10 years (1) has not been a member of any political party or any of its affiliates, (2) has not sought election to any partisan office as a candidate or nominee in any primary or general election, and (3) has not sought nomination for any office at any political party convention. The 8 (or 12) commissioners selected by the political parties would have 30 days to select one of these 4 individuals by majority vote to serve as their chairperson. In the event that a majority of the 8 (or 12) commissioners could not agree on one of the 4 names submitted by the board of state canvassers, then one of the 4 names would be drawn by lot. The individual chosen in this manner would serve as commission chairperson.
We propose that no two members selected by the state central committee of any given political party could be residents of the same county.
Within 30 days after the official total population count of each federal decennial census of the state and each of its political subdivisions becomes available, the secretary of state would issue a call convening the commission at Lansing. The state central committees of the two (or three) major political parties would submit their respective lists of 4 commissioners to the secretary of state and those commissioners would convene within 15 days of the secretary of state’s call. Once convened, the commission would be required to complete its work within 180 days.
Upon convening, the 8 (or 12) members selected by the political parties would have 30 days in which to elect a chairperson from the list of 4 individuals without party affiliation prepared and submitted by the board of state canvassers. If a majority of the 8 (or 12) commissioners could not agree on a chairperson within 30 days after convening, then one of the 4 names submitted by the board of state canvassers would be drawn by lot in the manner specified previously. As noted, this individual would serve as chairperson. The commission chairperson would be entitled to participate in discussion and vote on all matters in the same manner as the other members of the commission.
Following the selection of a chairperson, the 9 (or 13) commissioners would proceed to draw Michigan’s congressional districts, state senate districts, state house of representatives districts, and court of appeals districts. The presence of all 9 (or 13) commissioners would be required to conduct business. Final decisions regarding congressional, state senate, state house of representatives, and court of appeals redistricting plans would require a majority vote of the members of the commission. No member of the commission, including the chairperson, would be entitled to abstain from voting on the final redistricting plans. The commission would be empowered to hold public hearings as provided by law. The secretary of state would be required to provide technical and administrative support for the commission in a manner provided by law.
Within 60 days of the commission’s final adoption of redistricting plans for Michigan’s congressional delegation, the Michigan Senate, the Michigan House of Representatives, and the Michigan Court of Appeals, the plans would go into effect and become law.
We propose keeping the present numbers of 38 state senators and 110 state representatives for historical reasons. However, we propose new constitutional rules concerning the size, shape, and make-up of districts.
Under our proposal, the Michigan Constitution would call for 38 single-member state senate districts of equal population, 110 single-member state house districts of equal population, single-member congressional districts of equal population in a number set by act of congress for the apportionment of the representatives among the states, and multi-member court of appeals districts of equal population in a number to be provided by law.
The Michigan Constitution would require that state senate, state house of representatives, congressional, and court of appeals districts be compact and contiguous by land, provided that island areas would be considered contiguous by land to the county of which they are a part. The Constitution would require the redistricting commission to follow existing county, city, and township boundaries to the extent feasible in the drawing of state senate, state house of representatives, congressional, and court of appeals districts.
Further, we propose that the Constitution should require the redistricting commission to apportion state senate, state house of representatives, congressional, and court of appeals districts on the basis of the total number of people living in the territory in question, rather than the number of registered voters in the territory. The Constitution should also require the commission to draw state senate, state house of representatives, congressional, and court of appeals districts without consideration of the partisan makeup of the population of the territory in question.
We believe that a redistricting commission of this nature would most closely resemble Michigan’s former apportionment commission and would therefore be most consistent with the will of the people who ratified the Michigan Constitution of 1963. At the same time, however, our proposed constitutional amendment would remove any mention of unconstitutional geographic apportionment factors from the Michigan Constitution, make clear that all districts in any given legislative body should be equal in population, and eliminate the serious obstacles that prevented Michigan’s former apportionment commission from working as intended.