Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:
Senate Bill 0082: “An act to establish guidelines for the decennial adoption of redistricting plans for the senate and house of representatives; to provide original jurisdiction to the supreme court to review redistricting plans enacted by the legislature for compliance with those guidelines; and to provide a procedure for the supreme court to use to redistrict the senate and house of representatives under certain circumstances,” by amending sections 1, 1a, and 2 (MCL 4.261, 4.261a, and 4.262), section 1a as added and section 2 as amended by 1999 PA 223; and to repeal acts and parts of acts.”
Senate Bill 0206: “A bill to amend 1999 PA 221, entitled"Congressional redistricting act," by amending sections 2 and 3 (MCL 3.62 and 3.63).”
House Bill 4122: “A bill to create a citizens redistricting commission and
prescribe its powers and duties; to provide for the powers and duties of certain state governmental officers and entities; and to repeal acts and parts of acts.”
Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:
How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?
I recognize that Gerrymandering may not be the first thing people think of when considering issues pertaining to students of Michigan. However, in my opinion, the ultimate purpose of public education is to create an informed electorate to participate in our democracy. In practice, once students become eligible to vote they soon learn that their vote may not be counted equally. (I learned this lesson myself in the 2016 election). The vitality in of our republic relies on citizen participation and political party operatives have cleverly maneuvered the redistricting process to favor political parties over citizens. The practice of “Gerrymandering” has been a feature of American Democracy from it infancy. However, political strategists have begun to team-up (read: hire) data-scientists to build highly sophisticated models that can manipulate the outcomes of elections.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, give the context of just how consequential “lost-votes” can be in the states number of Democrats vs. Republicans in Congress.
“Political scientists call the relationship between the votes a party gets in a state and how many seats it picks up “responsiveness.” In a highly responsive map, a party steadily increases its seats as it increases its share of the vote. That is how most assume a democracy should function. A non-responsive map would be the reverse: one in which a party can increase its vote share by 10 or even 20 percent without gaining a single extra seat. A handful of states have non-responsive maps that are especially stark:
In Michigan, even if Democrats win five seats with 38.38 percent of the statewide vote, they are not projected to compete for a sixth seat until their statewide vote share reaches 54.89 percent, an increase of 16.51 percentage points.”
This is a disproportionate amount of percentage points required by Democrats to receive equitable representation in congress. Specifically, in Michigan the state house (controlled by Republicans) has red-drawn the congressional districts in a manner that greatly hurts a Democrats prospect for winning a seat not already “allotted” to the Democrats by the commission. However, in other states such as Delaware Democrats have successfully manipulated the congressional maps to favor their party.
How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?
Volunteering at The Ann Arbor Art Center has given me such a unique insight as to how diverse of a community Ann Arbor actually is. Having read about the student movements at The University of Michigan during the Civil Rights Era and Anti-War movements I developed a narrow-minded caricature of what Ann Arbor was like. Being from the suburbs of Detroit (traditionally a more Republican-leaning area) I frequently heard adults quip about the “hippy-liberal-bubble” that was Ann Arbor. Having come to the University, I have been insulated from the native Ann Arbor residents or as they like to call themselves the “townies.” At the Ann Arbor Art Center, I got to spend a great deal of time talking to folks from the community and understanding their concerns as well as their interest in the arts.
To my suprise, many of the visitors of the Art Center had diverse opinions on education spending and funding of the arts. I met more than a few residents who felt that Ann Arbor spent too much on the Arts in their schools. And that nonprofits like the Art Center were better vehicles for serving the community. I’m not sure how this would work. But I would note that the average household income of Ann Arbor residents is ~9,000$ more than the rest of Michigan. Also, the average Ann Arbor resident is 28 years old as opposed to the 39.7 average of the state of Michigan. These two key differences provide insight that compared to the average Michigander, Ann Arbor residents are wealthier and younger. This combination of more disposable income and are less likely to be at an age of parenthood. These differences and nuances to a community like Ann Arbor make representation very difficult. Ann Arbor is represented in the US House by Rep. Debbie Dingell the 12th district. The 12th district is comprised of major cities like Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Woodhaven, and Dearborn. These are primarily Democratic-leaning cities and the district is drawn as to leave out many neighborhoods and suburbs which are more conservative. Within Ann Arbor alone, as I learned at the Art Center, there is such a diversity of thought and opinion on contentious regional and local issues. A district drawn to group many of these cities together does not show the true breadth and depth of the resident’s needs and values. Gerrymandering is an obstruction of democracy and denies each American the right to fully and equally participate in the electoral process. Residents of large cities are being grouped together with like-minded (read: same voting history) cities and are given less representation in the Congress because of Gerrymandering.
Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:
Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).
CONSULTATION 1: Brandon Markowitz, President of The Business and Public Policy Club.
Brandon has spent a lot of time researching this issue while working for the State House in Pennsylvania. He spoke at length about the issues facing districts in Pennsylvania and the impact they could have as Pennsylvania is traditionally a battle-ground state in Presidential elections. There votes could actually serve to count as more than one vote. On the issue of gerrymandering in Michigan Brand had to say “Gerrymandering is unfair because it allows partisan bias to manipulate our representative system of democracy. In effect, incumbents can repress and ignore subsets of the population by balancing those more favorable to their opinions among the dissenters. In the long term, this can leave important people and problems in our country hidden, thus fostering a latent and rapid erosion of our country and its ideals.” Brandon is right. The research shows that in states with “extreme gerrymandering” congressional candidates are pushed toward ideological extremes of their parties as to win their seat. Instead of playing to a centrist audience which is more reflective of most Americans political orientations.
CONSULTATION 2: Conservative Student Activist (Asked to remain anonymous)
When speaking with a prominent conservative student activist they made note of the fact that in Michigan Gerrymandering has greatly helped the Republican party and was likely a contributing factor in Donald Trump (the Republican party’s nominee for president in 2016) winning the State’s delegates in the Electoral College. Michigan’s 14th district is very oddly shaped as to encompass many Democrats that may have swayed other districts elections (these districts have been won by Republicans as a result of gerrymandering). He noted that the 14th district’s representative, Rep. Brenda Lawrence, is not representative of their community. However, he noted that, in Michigan as a whole, most Representatives do still represent regional and local issues accurately. There has been an effort by current districts to represent local and regional issues and maintain the City of Detroit’s federal support.
The only way to democratically draw districts is through the political process and debating it rigorously in an open and honest manner. The founders did this for a reason, there is a debate and process about it. There is no truly non-political of drawing the lines and while current system is not perfect but the current process allows for debate. While using an algorithm or other “objective” tools to draw congressional districts we then create a tool or system that can no longer be questioned and is deemed as the truth.
There is no such thing as a perfect district. States should determine how they do their own elections the judicial branch and the national legislature have no place dictating how each state ought to conduct their own elections.
CONSULTATION 3: Rebecca DeVooght, State Relations Director at The University of Michigan Government Relations Office.
Ms. DeVooght, came to speak to the Caucus at a Town Hall event. We went around the room soliciting her advice on each of our proposals. After the session, I had the opportunity to speak to her more about my proposal and the political realities that exist in Lansing.
Ms. DeVooght, largely agreed with my argument and mentioned that my proposal was unique. However, she iterated that as the Michigan State House is controlled by Republicans the feasibility of such a proposal is very slim. She suggested I look further into the campaign “Voters not Politicians” and I have found some valuable resources on their site. Further, Ms. DeVooght mentioned that there is simply not enough political will to change the status-quo and that other initiatives are easier to “sell” to the public and get passed such that eliminating Gerrymandering would have to come from the judicial branch. Gill v. Whitford is currently being considered by the Supreme Court.Prospectus:
The State of Michigan's legislature is accused of drawing congressional lines to benefit the GOP. These partisan acts undermine democracy and disincentivize students from fully participating in the democratic process. Gerrymandering is the act of intentionally drawing congressional districts to include more supporters in an effort to "waste votes" and ensure a politician from one party wins that district. According to a study conducted by Princeton University, "The net effect is a change in the margin of about 15 Congressional seats, in a direction favoring Republicans." While there are 435 members of The House, the highly consequential Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was narrowly passed by just four votes. Each one of these seats is hugely important. Gerrymandering has allowed parties to win seats without having a majority vote in the state. According to the New York Times in reference to Michigan and a few other states in the 2016 presidential election, "no one would dispute that these lines were ruthlessly drawn to favor the Republicans." Students in the State of Michigan spend years in school learning civics and history and when they come of age they are ordained with the right to vote. However, due to partisan gerrymandering efforts by both parties many students and adults voices are being silenced without them even knowing it. A federal lawsuit was filed in Lansing by The Michigan League of Women Voters claims that the district lines were drawn in secret and done in a deliberative fashion to undermine minority voters voice. The suit goes on to say "Partisan gerrymandering inverts the Constitutional order by allowing those in power to treat voters as pawns to be shuffled back and forth based on their political allegiances, manipulating the electoral process in order to preserve and enhance the controlling party’s power,” This often overlooked problem ought to be addressed in an open and honest way as to maintain the integrity of Michigan's elections. This said I hope to develop pragmatic solutions to enable students to have their voices heard and their votes counted.
Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.
1. One solution to the issue of Gerrymandering in Michigan is using non-partisan committees to draw congressional districts. The group "Voters not Politicians" has taken this a step further in proposing a citizen-based commission to draw congressional districts. Further, these meetings would be transparent and open to the public. In their proposal under the section "The Rules That Must Be Followed in Drawing a Map" they clearly outline measures that would eliminate the possibility of gerrymandering by using: statistical weighting, districts that reflect the diversity of a community, measures to ensure that districts neither favor or disfavor incumbents, and that all districts should be compact. Gerrymandering is a deeply entrenched practice in Michigan and this solution addresses many of the flaws of the state legislature leading the congressional map drawing. Any citizen who meets the criteria outlined (not have held public office or worked for the state government) can apply to be apart of this commission. While the group of applicants may be self-selecting it is possible that unqualified applicants could become commissioners on such a committee. https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legal-work/Ballot_Proposal_Overview_MI.pdf
2. One solution to the issue of Gerrymandering in Michigan is using proportional voting. Proportional voting can take many forms but at its core, "Proportional representation is the idea that seats in parliament should be allocated so that they are in proportion to the votes cast." This would also help combat voter fraud and voter suppression. One form of proportional voting is PLACE voting, outlined in this article: https://firstname.lastname@example.org/place-voting-explained-129e65cbb625
In which Quinn states that "It’s [PLACE Voting] designed to bring the advantages of PR — including not just a closing of that gap, but also increased turnout, improved minority representation and gender balance, reduction in mudslinging, and even a boost to grassroots organizing—without giving up any of the advantages of the current voting method," Proportional voting is a threat to the current Two-Party System and would certainly be disruptive to the DC establishment. However, Proportional Voting would give minorities more of a voice in the legislature. Candidates would become more receptive to smaller constituencies and would be less likely to move to the center of their party for the sake of attracting new voters.
With the use of Proportional Voting, the American electoral system would look more like that of New Zealand. Which uses an MPP (Mixed Member Proportional) system that gives each person two votes: one for a candidate and one for a party. http://www.elections.org.nz/voting-system/mmp-voting-system
This is one solution to combating Gerrymandering that would require a shift in the way the Congress would work. Many parties would emerge and coalitions would have to form to dominate the legislature and pass legislation.
3. One solution to the issue of Gerrymandering in Michigan is using an algorithm to determine congressional districts based on census data inputs. The idea isn't any more complicated than that. This solution is arguably bias-free and would be the "fairest" way to draw congressional maps. It has been mentioned that the creator of such an algorithm could have some bias and give unequal weighting in the maths. Further, the algorithm would need to be updated and that would become a politically divisive issue.
Researchers have built statistical models to understand how an algorithm based map drawing would work. And published their work here:https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10589-017-9936-3
"Computer scientists are motivated by the belief that data and algorithms will create transparency in the notoriously opaque redistricting process by exposing the inputs and parameters that led to redrawing a district a certain way."
Similarly, Prof. Wendy Cho presented a model using an algorithm to judge the "partisaness" of a congressional district which could serve as a stepping stone toward full adoption. http://cho.pol.illinois.edu/wendy/papers/talismanic.pdf
https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/7xkmag/gerrymandering-algorithmsReaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:
You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.Response to Samuel
Submitted by Luke Hoffman TC on 2 days ago
Thank you for discussing this highly controversial issue with the caucus. At this point, I am sure you narrowed down what solution you think will be most effective, and you have consulted with professionals on this topic to modify your solution. Just a few precautions about your bill...
Although gerrymandering does play a large role in elections and can sway the outcome for many congressman, you must also be careful to not change the entire election process, and in the end, change the entire dynamic of congress. It will be easy for people to come up with counterarguments if you plan on changing the entire system. In addition, it looks like you do a great job of researching other successful places in the world who have eliminated the problem of gerrymandering, like New Zealand. I know that in most cases it would be easiest to just pull from their laws, but please consider that the United States has a unique government where the people are given so much voting power.
In all, it looks like you are on the right track, and have committed a lot of research to this problem. I look forward to seeing your final product.
- After reading Luke's comments and others. I decided that changing the entire election-system was unfeasible as Luke noted. However, I took inspiration and adapted the platform from the group "Voters not Politicians" as to create a citizen-commission to lead the redistricting process and not allow politicians to dominate the process and conduct the redistricting in secret.Research process:
Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit. In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.
After participating in numerous topic areas within the caucus I got to thinking “what is the fundamental goal of public education?” To this, I felt that the most basic goal of providing a public education is teach students civics, history, and how their government works as to prepare them for the sacred right that is to vote in a democratic election.
I then felt that gerrymandering was such an injustice and one that is unique to Michigan. So I chose to pursue a proposal on gerrymandering despite it not being the most conventional idea for a proposal.
The process was frustrating. I encountered a great many brick walls and was questioned by my peers. My research led me all around the internet from popular articles in the New York Times and Washington Post to the academic mathematical analysis of the efficiency gaps in individual states. I also used the caucus itself to conduct research and better understand how my peers t voting in the 2016 presidential election. I recognize that the caucus is not representative of any means of the State of Michigan.
I thought to propose the algorithmic solution and spent a lot of time on sites like Khan Academy and youtube understanding how algorithms work. This was certainly a dead end. As I came to realize there is no truly objective algorithm because they are all created by humans.
Ultimately my research of the League of Women voters ballot initiative and proposal was the most fruitful and came to be the foundation of my own proposal.
Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?
I am the sole author of this proposal. I have consulted with three experts and have received feedback from members of the caucus and TC's. Brian Hampton, Luke Hoffman, and Justin Schulman have advised me on the proposal process and has been extraordinary resources for me.===FORMAL PROPOSAL===
The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.Preambulatory clauses
These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.
WHEREAS.... Ballot proposals are designed behind closed doors by legislators with no civilian or non-partisan overweight.
WHEREAS.... Congressional districts are composed of neighborhoods with similar voting patterns instead of needs or conditions.
WHEREAS.... Politicians are pushed toward ideological extremes of their party instead of more popular centrist positions.
WHEREAS.... Donors and special-interest groups are able to manipulate election results.
WHEREAS.... Only three U.S. Congressional races (in Michigan) out of 15 were decided by a margin of less than 10 percent. Leading to non-competitive elections.
WHEREAS.... Efficiency gaps continue to rise in every district across the state.
(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)Operative clauses
These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED....
1. The State of Michigan ought to make the redistricting process and open and transparent process to the public.
2. Citizens shall serve on an apolitical-non-partisan commission to lead the redistricting process. Former government officials, bureaucrats, lobbyists, political operatives, strategists, consultants, or those deemed to have a political, personal, or financial conflict of interest may not serve on the commission.
3. Political motivations and party loyalty are not to affect the shape or characteristics of any congressional district. Districts will be drawn in accordance with census data to create districts that are representative of the needs of its citizenry.
4. Michigan’s congressional districts may be challenged in a court of law and the committees' memos, internal documents, and communication will be made available to the People of the State of Michigan.Counter-arguments:
What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?
There is no truly objective way to draw congressional maps.
2. Citizens selected to serve on an independent commission may not possess the skills or experience necessary to competently draw congressional districts.
3. No- willing participant on an independent commission could act in a truly objective manner and be devoid of any political affiliations or favor.Costs and funding:
What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from? Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?
As it stands today, congressional districts are drawn based on census data by state legislators. In Michigan State Legislators are paid $71,685/year plus many other benefits and reimbursements. However, as the the redistricting process is done in secret there is no-publicly available data on the number of legislators involved in the process or how long it takes. That said, it is impossible to calculate the amount of money that would be saved by having citizens sit on such a commission instead of paid politicians. Further, costs would be incurred in the bureaucratic mechanisms required to identify and review said citizen-candidates. Costs of these nature are similarly impossible to calculate as there is no precedent nor any projections/estimates as to how many citizens would end up applying to be on such a commission.References:
These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.