In the 2016 general election, 4,642,676 Michiganians voted for the office of United States representative in Congress, and 4,595,676 Michiganians voted for the office of state representative (you can view the Michigan election results here).
Of the Michigan voters who cast a ballot for the office of United States representative in Congress this year, 2,244,765 (48.351%) voted for the Republican candidate, 2,164,893 (46.630%) voted for the Democratic candidate, and 233,018 (5.019%) voted for a third-party candidate.
Yet of the 14 individuals elected to serve as Michigan’s representatives in the next Congress, nine (64.29%) are Republicans and only five (35.71%) are Democrats. In other words, even though fewer than 50% of Michigan voters chose the Republican candidate for Congress, Republicans will make up 64.29% of Michigan’s congressional delegation.
The election results for the Michigan House of Representatives tell a similar story.
Of the Michigan voters who cast a ballot for the office of state representative earlier this month, 2,261,723 (49.214%) voted for the Republican candidate, 2,257,019 (49.112%) voted for the Democratic candidate, and 76,934 (1.674%) voted for a third-party candidate.
But of the 110 individuals elected to serve as state representatives in the 2017-2018 Michigan Legislature, 63 (57.27%) are Republicans and 47 (42.73%) are Democrats. In other words, although the difference between the 2016 total statewide Republican vote for state representative and the 2016 total statewide Democratic vote for state representative was 4,704 (a mere 0.102% of the votes cast), Republicans will hold 57.27% of the seats and Democrats will hold only 42.73% of the seats.
What caused these distorted results? It’s called partisan gerrymandering — the process by which one party draws legislative district boundaries to benefit its own candidates. Because the GOP controlled both chambers of the Michigan Legislature following the last federal decennial census, Republicans were entirely in charge when redrawing Michigan’s congressional and state legislative districts. It should come as no surprise that these Republican state legislators drew the lines to maximize the number of GOP seats and to dilute Democratic votes.
How do we solve the problem of gerrymandering? We must take the power of drawing Michigan’s congressional and state legislative districts away from the members of the Legislature, and turn it over to an independent redistricting commission.
But wait. Did you know Michigan already tried this, at least with respect to state legislative districts?
On April 1, 1963, the people of the State of Michigan voted to ratify a new state constitution. Central to the new constitution was a provision that divested the Michigan Legislature of the power to draw its own districts and gave that power to a bipartisan apportionment commission, which was charged with drawing new legislative districts every 10 years. As Constitutional Convention Delegate John A. Hannah (R-East Lansing) explained at the time, “We became convinced that it’s totally unrealistic to expect the Legislature to reapportion itself.”
Because the bipartisan apportionment commission was constitutionally composed of four Democrats and four Republicans, however, it deadlocked along party lines after each federal census. Quite simply, its members were unable to reach a majority decision in each instance.
In 1982, after several such deadlocks, the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the bipartisan apportionment commission altogether. The Court ruled that the section of the state constitution establishing the apportionment commission was not severable from other, invalid parts of the constitution that required the use of geographic apportionment factors (the use of these apportionment factors violated the 14th Amendment one-person-one-vote rule).
This decision of the Michigan Supreme Court was suspect from day one. Ask yourself this: How can the state supreme court strike down a provision of the state constitution on state-law grounds? Answer: It can’t. True, the use of geographic apportionment factors was clearly violative of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. But the severability determination — the Court’s decision that the section establishing the apportionment commission could not stand on its own, independent of the other unconstitutional sections — was a question of state law, not federal law.
To make matters worse, the Michigan Supreme Court then blatantly violated the Michigan Constitution by kicking the authority to draw legislative districts back to the Michigan Legislature — the very entity that the Constitutional Convention delegates and voters had deliberately divested of the redistricting power in 1963.
So when you hear someone extolling the virtues of Michigan’s present redistricting process, remember that it isn’t even constitutional. The people of Michigan voted to take the power of drawing legislative districts away from state lawmakers, and chose instead to vest that power exclusively in a bipartisan apportionment commission. In so doing, the people unambiguously declared their intent to keep the redistricting process wholly separate from the Legislature. It’s time to combat the mischief of partisan gerrymandering by breathing new life into the original intent of the ratifiers of the Michigan Constitution of 1963. By reestablishing an independent redistricting commission (here is one way to do it), we can give renewed effect to the will of the people and restore the constitutional framework adopted by the voters.