Statewide voter campaign against gerrymandering faces partisan resistance

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Liz Hakola, a local member of the group Voters Not Politicians, talks about the group’s ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting committee for Michigan Wednesday at the Portage Lake District Library.

HOUGHTON — A petition for a ballot proposal to create an independent restricting commission for Michigan has collected enough signatures, a local member of a state group that filed the proposal said during a Wednesday program at the Portage Lake District Library.

As of Sunday, the proposal by the Voters Not Politicians group has collected 425,000 signatures. The group is opposed to gerrymandering, or the drawing of congressional and legislative districts for partisan gain.

If 315,654 of the signatures are deemed to be valid, the state Board of Canvassers will certify the petitions.

The group is aiming to get the proposal on the November 2018 ballot.

The signature-collecting effort had finished as of Sunday, said Pelkie resident Liz Hakola.

Locally, eight members collected 1,541 signatures, Hakola said.

The proposal would create an independent commission for the redistricting process, which is handled now by the state Legislature.

The commission would consist of 13 registered voters from across the state — four Democrats, four Republicans and five people unaffiliated with either major political party.

Politicians, consultants and lobbyists or people closely related to them would not be allowed to serve on the commission. People on the commission would also be banned from holding a partisan elected office in the state for five years afterward.

The Legislature’s role in drawing the districts is provided for in Michigan’s constitution. Besides initiative petitions, amendments can also be made by approval of two-thirds of the state House and Senate, and then a majority of voters.

Legal challenges are expected to the petitions. The opposing group Committee to Protect Voters’ Rights, formed by longtime state Republican operatives, has said the districts would sacrifice compactness and respect for city and county lines.

The group also accuses Voters Not Politicians of having its own partisan spin, citing the number of organizers who have donated to Democrats.

So the effort to change the way boundaries are drawn for elections is only just beginning, Hakola said.

“Once all the wrangling is over, the campaign phase will begin, and we’ll need a lot more volunteers for that phase,” Hakola said.

Copper Country League of Women Voters member Barry Fink anticipated that the League would take a position on the proposal if the ballot language is accepted.