Isabelle Schindler: The continued fight for fair elections

Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 5:43pm

The right to vote is one of the most sacred powers with which we have been entrusted. However, this right must continue to be protected from politicians and special interest groups who, through partisan gerrymandering, seek to meddle and exert undue influence.

Last November, Michigan voters voted 61.27 to 38.73 percent in favor of Proposal 2, which will create an independent redistricting commission to draw the state's electoral districts. No longer will the majority party in the state legislature be able to redraw districts to benefit their party. Instead, this new commission will be staffed by ordinary citizens, not career politicians.  

As per the proposal, there is a very specific process to choose who will be on the commission. There must be four voters who identify as Republicans, four who identify as Democrats and five who either identify as a member of a third party or as a member of no party. In order for the new districts to be approved, consensus must be reached by a majority of the commission, including two Democrats, two Republicans and three of the people with no party or independent affiliation. Additionally, safeguards have been put in place to prevent people with political influence from getting on the commission. For instance, if you, your child, your parent or your spouse have served in the last six years as an elected official, partisan candidate, campaign consultant, lobbyist or a member of a governing body, then you are prohibited from serving on the commission.  

Each of these stipulations helps to ensure a fair and honest commission that will draw the district boundaries that Michiganders deserve.  However, the commission cannot effectively do its work if Republicans continue to weaken and undercut the committee at every turn. Since the approval of Proposal 2, Republicans in Michigan have waged a series of legal challenges to try to prevent the formation of this commission. This week, the Republican-controlled legislature took yet another step to restrict the effectiveness of the commission. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said that 4.6 million dollars is needed to properly fund the redistricting commission. However, the  budget plan passed by the Republican controlled House and Senate Conference Committee allocates 3.4 million dollars. This 1.2 million dollar shortfall would be detrimental to the commission's effectiveness. With something as important as our elections on the line, we cannot cut corners. 

Across the nation, partisan gerrymandering has wreaked havoc on our electoral system. It has allowed for the disenfranchisement of voters and for politicians to stifle change and unfairly choose their constituencies. In my own state Senate district in New York, the electoral lines have been systematically drawn to favor Republicans, splitting up towns and creating disjointed districts. When I worked on various local political campaigns in New York, people would come to the local office not sure who their representative was, given that their town had been divided during the redrawing of the districts.

Gerrymandering is practiced by both parties, and it is simply unacceptable. Independent commissions, such as the one in Proposal 2, are the only way in which we can create districts that are fair and allow voters' voices to be heard. That is why it is so important that all of us in Michigan raise our voices to support the creation and full funding of this commission. There is a reason why Michiganders supported Proposal 2 by such a wide margin: They realized that, regardless of party, we should all strive for more fair elections free of outside influence. 

You can call your state senator or assembly member and voice your opposition to this funding cut. You can also sign up to volunteer and receive updates from Voters Not Politicians, the advocacy group that championed Proposal 2.  If we truly want this, then we must push back against these budget cuts and work to ensure that Proposal 2 is properly enacted.

Isabelle Schindler can be reached at ischind@umich.edu.