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Group files lawsuit to finalize language of anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal

People holding signs advocating for the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative that was passed last November.
Photo courtesy of Voters Not Politicians
Voters Not Politicians

The Board of State Canvassers has until September 7th to finalize ballot language for an anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal -- but on Tuesday, the group Voters Not Politicians filed a lawsuit demanding they approve language sooner.

The proposal would change the way district lines are drawn, establishing what Voters Not Politicians calls an “Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission.” It aims to end the practice of gerrymandering in Michigan, or politicians drawing district lines that purposefully favor any political party or candidate.

Katie Fahey is the Executive Director and founder of Voters Not Politicians. She says the language set to appear on the ballot should be approved early so there is enough time to challenge any misleading or inaccurate wording in court; for some voters, the language that appears on the ballot will be all they know about the proposal.

Fred Woodhams is with the Secretary of State. He says the Department of State is “taken aback” by the group’s filing of this lawsuit.

“All necessary steps to place the group’s proposal on the ballot are being taken,” he says, adding that the “Bureau of Elections staff have many responsibilities to prepare for the November general election, including drafting ballot language and canvassing another ballot question’s petition, and they are working diligently to complete each of them in a timely way. VNP is being treated the same as the four other ballot questions that have or could make the ballot.”

Read more: 5 things to know about the ballot proposal to end gerrymandering in Michigan

Voters Not Politicians started collecting signatures for this ballot initiative in August 2017. Surpassing the required 315,654 signatures, the group collected over 425,000 by December.

The process has been delayed since then by legal challenges from a group called Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution. That group is funded by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. It challenged the constitutionality of the ballot proposal, but both the Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of Voters Not Politicians.

“We have a very clear opinion from the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court that our proposal [will] appear on the November ballot and it's time to get that job finished,” Fahey says.

The entire proposal is over six pages, but it must be described in no more than 100 words on the November ballot.

Voters Not Politicians submitted its own proposed ballot language to the Board of State Canvassers on August 13th. That language describes the proposal as creating an “Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission” and emphasizes transparency “with all Commission hearings and records open and public.” It also mentions the proposal would “exclude lobbyists, partisan candidates and partisan elected officials, from the commission” and “require election districts that do not favor or disfavor a particular candidate, elected official or political party.”

Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution also submitted proposed ballot language. It describes the proposal as creating a “Majority Partisan Redistricting Commission” that would remove “citizens' ability to hold elected officials accountable for these decisions,” “prevent citizens from becoming members of the majority partisan commission because of certain marital and family relationships” and “mandate that a minimum of $5 million of taxpayer funds be spent for the majority partisan commission.”

Fahey says the wording from the Chamber-backed group does not surprise her.

“Once again we see the people who have benefited from the current system trying to put up any obstacle they can to prohibit people from understanding what this proposal does,” she says.

The proposal will be called Proposal 2 on the November ballot.

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