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Michigan Truth Squad: A video attacks Michigan redistricting proposal

Screenshot from a attack ad on the redistricting proposal
The Voters Not Politicians proposal would create a commission of citizens responsible for drawing district lines instead of politicians. The Michigan Freedom Fund video contains true, misleading and untrue claims.

The Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative advocacy organization, promotes an online video, paid for by recently-formed committee Protect My Vote, that asks voters to reject the Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative that would make a citizens’ commission responsible for redrawing district lines, instead of the legislature.

It’s packed with claims, some true and some whoppers. As a whole, we give the video a rating of foul. Its litany of claims are broken down below.

1. Voters Not Politicians is an “Obama-backed” group — MISLEADING

Campaign finance reports do not show any disclosed donations from former President Barack Obama or affiliated groups and Obama has not directly endorsed the proposal. However, Obama does support the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which in turn supports VNP.

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

2. It would give the job of drawing your (state) house, Senate and (U.S.) congressional district maps to a commission of unelected liberals — FOUL

Yes, it would give the job to an unelected commission, but at least four would be Republicans, four others would be Democrats, and five would be Independents.

Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, wrote in an email to Bridge, “the proposal says a lot of things but the only ‘proof’ that someone will be a Republican (or Democrat or Independent) is their self-identification as such.”

Perhaps, but that hardly ensures all commissioners would be liberal. It also ignores a mechanism built in to the ballot proposal that is intended to reduce the appointment of overly-partisan members: House and Senate leadership could strike a small number of commission candidates from the application pool.

3. It would create an unaccountable fourth branch of government — FOUL

This argument was raised before the state Supreme Court. Daunt noted that Chief Justice Stephen Markman wrote exactly this in his dissenting opinion. That’s true (see page 37 of the dissent.)

But the majority of the Court rebuked it. The justices address the issue in depth beginning on page 44 of the opinion. As the syllabus summarizing the decision notes: “VNP’s proposed standards would constitute neither a revolution in redistricting nor a transformation of Michigan’s form or structure of government.”

4. The commission would be created by randomly selecting four Republicans, four Democrats and five Independents — FAIR


5. No elected officials or even precinct delegates could serve. A precinct delegate’s spouse, kids and parents couldn’t serve because they’ve been elected — FAIR

Spot on, at least for six years after the last time they held elected office.

6. Professors and union bosses could serve — FAIR

Anyone could serve that isn’t disqualified by one of several factors.

7. VNP calls themselves independent even though they have a documented history of giving to and running for office as Democrats — FAIR

The Detroit News has reported that VNP board members have donated to Democrats in the past. Walt Sorg used to serve on the group’s Board of Directors, and he has run for office as a Democrat. Only one of the current board members has run for office, and that’s moderate Republican former U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz.

8. Their leader flew to NY to party with Hillary on election night 2016 — FAIR

True, according to the Associated Press.

9. You wouldn’t be able to hold your representative, the governor or even the Supreme Court accountable — FOUL

The governor and Supreme Court justices are all elected by statewide vote, so they would not be affected by redistricting reform, making that part of the claim false.

Daunt said his group’s criticism focuses more on the lack of accountability that comes from removing legislators from drawing lines. If they perform that task poorly, he argues, they can be voted from office. “With (the Voters Not Politicians) system, it’s left solely to the commission,” Daunt wrote.

Advocates for redistricting reform counter that keeping politicians in charge of legislative boundaries actually makes it harder to remove incumbents, because they are more likely to gerrymander districts in their favor.

10. The process will be run by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who don’t answer to you — MISLEADING

Daunt wrote that there’s “no process for citizens of this state to remove a member of the commission for malfeasance. That falls only to the other members of the commission.” That’s true — they’d be unelected, so they can’t be voted out by the public if voters don’t like how they drew legislative lines.

But that doesn’t mean they would never answer to the public: The proposal says there must be public hearings and input periods built in to the process of drawing and approving maps, and they’d have to present data to support how maps are drawn. Also, the Michigan Supreme Court and federal courts could review and strike down maps if they’re found unconstitutional.

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