Michigan Redistricting Power Put To A Vote
NOEL KING, HOST:
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court punted on what to do about the problem of partisan gerrymandering. That's where the party in power draws political lines to benefit itself. Next month, voters in four states will consider whether to take that power away from politicians. Michigan Radio's Cheyna Roth has a look at what's going on in that state.
CHEYNA ROTH, BYLINE: It starts with a Facebook post after the 2016 election.
KATIE FAHEY: I'd like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan. If you're interested in doing this as well, please let me know - smiley face.
ROTH: That's Katie Fahey, the organizer of Voters Not Politicians. She had put up a similar post years ago.
FAHEY: And nobody even liked it.
ROTH: But this time, people were clicking the Like button. And they actually wanted to help.
FAHEY: And then out here is where we have our printer. This is one of the fanciest printers that our campaign has.
ROTH: Fahey is showing off Voters Not Politicians' newest field office. The redistricting initiative she launched has amassed hundreds of volunteers and raised more than a million dollars in donations. And everything is donated, from old computers to the furniture, which has people's names taped to the bottom so that they can get their chairs and tables back.
FAHEY: I'm hoping to find a coffee maker that can be (laughter) donated with some food and stuff like that. And then...
ROTH: Right now, lawmakers in power get together and draw the district lines before getting them approved by the governor. Michael Li is senior redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. He says Michigan's maps are among the most skewed in the country.
MICHAEL LI: It's very clear that their number-one goal, above protecting communities - ethnic, geographic, otherwise in Michigan - it's very clear that their number-one goal was to maximize Republican political power.
ROTH: Republicans have taken the majority of the state's congressional seats, nine out of 14, even in years when Democrats have gotten far more votes overall. The redistricting proposal would create a commission made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents. A majority that includes a mix of all three would have to agree on the maps.
But the opposition calls the proposal an expensive way to change a system that already works. Linda Lee Tarver is a Republican and has worked for four secretaries of state. She says this whole thing is skewed to help Democrats.
LINDA LEE TARVER: It's a gimmick, and it bypasses our elected official and our democracy. And if they want to have the pen, they need to win elections.
ROTH: The initiative comes at a time when voters are frustrated with politics and government. Bernie Porn is president of Epic MRA, a polling and research firm.
BERNIE PORN: It has been something that has been building for years.
ROTH: He says that frustration came to a head in 2016.
PORN: People were dissatisfied. They think that government at the federal level is really looking out for members of Congress, their donors and corporations. And they're left out in the cold.
ROTH: Polls looking at the redistricting proposal show it's been gaining popularity over the last few weeks, but it's still a difficult subject to get people excited about. Shakena Hannah of Detroit plans to vote in November. And she's leaning in favor of the proposal.
SHAKENA HANNAH: One reason is because why should the person in office get to decide, like, who gets to vote in that area when I should have a right to choose? And it just makes me wonder, well, how much rights do we really have?
ROTH: Even if the redistricting measure passes, that's not the end of the road. Legal challenges to the commission's decisions seem all but certain. For NPR News, I'm Cheyna Roth in Lansing, Mich.
(SOUNDBITE OF LRKR'S "CHILEAN SUNSET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.