GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When it comes to Michigan’s legislative and congressional boundaries, there are few straight lines. Each district looks like a jigsaw puzzle piece gone wild.
That’s because the party in charge of the state Legislature (currently the Republicans) gets to draw those lines. Regardless of what party in charge, the lines are drawn to suit the majority’s political needs. It’s called gerrymandering.
“The word gerrymander comes from ‘Gerry’ and ‘salamander,’ and the idea is it’s kind of a joke, because the district lines are drawn like snakes,” Western Michigan University Cooley Law School Professor Christopher Hastings explained.
Efforts to block a November ballot initiative that would change the way boundaries for state legislative and congressional districts are drawn have failed. On Tuesday, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the initiative.
A group called Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, which has ties to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, argued the proposal was too broad and that such changes should be decided at a rarely held constitutional convention.
“That it requires a complete overhaul during a constitutional convention and it can’t be decided by the voters,” Hastings explained the group’s stance.
In a 4-3 decision, justices disagreed. Their ruling effectively sent the proposal to the ballot.
“It’s really hard to be in this kind of partisan gerrymandering unless you’re more concerned with your own party than you are with the capital-D idea of democracy and representative voting,” Hastings said.
If passed by voters, the ballot initiative would set up a bipartisan commission to draw the districts. It would be made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and five at-large independent commissioners — people with no party affiliation.
“The idea is that rather than having the legislators pick various elements, the government will pick people who are going to draw maps, not along partisan lines, but along public lines,” Hastings said.
But is the plan truly free of politics? When it comes to those five independent commissioners, legislative leaders would be able to strike up to 20 people from the pool of potential members. The final choices would be up to the Secretary of State, which is a partisan position.
The initiative is not perfect, but Hastings said he thinks “what’s coming is better than what we have now.”
The pay for the part-time commission job would be pretty good, coming in at just under $40,000 a year.