State Watch

Michigan redistricting initiative likely headed for ballot

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Supporters of a proposed measure that would change the way Michigan draws its political boundaries on Monday turned in hundreds of thousands of signatures to qualify the initiative for next year’s ballot.
The initiative would take the power to draw political boundaries out of the hands of Michigan’s state legislature. Instead, an independent commission made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents would draw legislative and congressional district lines every ten years.
Staffers and volunteers — including one dressed as Santa — for the group Voters Not Politicians said they were turning in 188 boxes containing more than 425,000 signatures to the state Bureau of Elections. 
They need 315,654 valid signatures to qualify the initiative, making it all but certain the measure will appear on the ballot next year.
{mosads}The initiative would not allow elected officials, lobbyists, consultants or their family members to serve on the commission.
Though the group backing the initiative is ostensibly nonpartisan, Democrats have been mounting efforts to reform redistricting practices across the country. Supporters of a nonpartisan, or more independent, redistricting process are also gathering signatures for ballot measures in Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Utah.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group run by former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chief Kelly Ward. The group is not formally backing the Michigan initiative, or similar efforts in other states, though they are keeping close track of those states’ measures, Ward told The Hill in a recent interview.
Republicans said the Michigan group is little more than a front for Democrats trying to manipulate the redistricting process.
“Voters not Politicians wants to take the redistricting process out of the hands of our elected Representatives and hand it to a panel of bureaucrats who will in no way be accountable to Michigan voters,” state Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser said in a statement. “This proposal will lead to our citizens having less say in who represents them.”
In Michigan, Republicans own big majorities in the state House and Senate, though both parties have won statewide elections in recent years: All four state executive offices are held by Republicans, but both U.S. Senate seats are held by Democrats. 
Republicans hold nine of Michigan’s 14 seats in Congress. 
An Associated Press analysis earlier this year found Michigan’s current district lines create a significant “efficiency gap,” a measure of the partisanship of a state’s political boundaries; if one party has significantly more “wasted votes” — that is, votes cast for a losing party and excess votes for the winning party — they find themselves at a disadvantage.
The AP analysis found high efficiency gaps in Wisconsin, Florida and South Dakota that benefitted Republicans. Large gaps in Colorado and Nevada were most beneficial to Democrats.
Six states currently use a commission to draw their congressional district maps: Washington, Idaho, California, Arizona, Hawaii and New Jersey. In Iowa, state legislative staff draw district maps, which are then ratified by legislators. 
Every other state — with the exception of the seven states that have only one seat in Congress — leaves it to the legislature to draw district boundaries.
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