Michigan’s secretary of state on Monday accused Republican lawmakers of undermining the state’s redistricting process by using “budgeting gimmicks” and political sleight of hand to circumvent “the will of the voters.”
Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D-MI) slammed proposals by GOP-controlled legislators that would underfund a new independent redistricting commission approved by voters last November.
Benson claimed that a Senate-approved budget “contravenes the will of the voters,” while a House-version that underfunds the redistricting effort resorts to “budgeting gimmicks.”
“Both of these approaches are unacceptable. The legislature must stop playing games with democracy and must fully fund both the Department of State and the redistricting commission,” her office told ThinkProgress in a statement.
Gerrymandering in Michigan mirrors Republican tactics across the country that seek to redraw voting precinct boundaries to GOP advantage, as the party vies to hold onto power despite losing ground at the ballot box in the state.
The last time Republicans redrew Michigan’s congressional and legislative boundaries, a U.S. Circuit Court invalidated the maneuver as unconstitutional, describing the move as gerrymandering “of historical proportions.” The court is ordering the state to redraw the maps before the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, voters in Michigan last Novemebr overwhelmingly passed a ballot initiative that would ensure the next round of redistricting process in 2021 is done fairly. The measure would take the entire redistricting process out of the hands of partisan legislators and allow an independent commission to draw the lines. But the GOP-controlled legislature is trying to underfund the commission in a bid to undermine the intent of the new law, critics say.
The move by the legislature “defies the will of the 2.5 million Michiganders who amended the state Constitution specifically to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians and [who] placed it with an independent citizens’ redistricting commission,” Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians — the group that pushed for the ballot initiative — said in a statement.
Likewise, the House version of the measure would cut the redistricting commission’s budget far less than recommended by the governor.
Kathay Feng, national redistricting director for the government watchdog organization Common Cause, said that what she described as a “power grab” by Michigan legislators is consistent with how lawmakers across the country treat the redistricting process far too often.
“Politicians in power, regardless of party, consistently fight against voter-approved initiatives to give the power of redistricting to citizen commissions,” Feng said.
“Michigan’s legislators’ blatant attempt to shift money away from the commission and to realign power back to the legislature is just the latest cynical attempt at a power grab by these politicians.”