Michigan voters will have a chance to determine in November whether to create an independent commission to handle legislative redistricting, after the Board of State Canvassers certified a ballot measure Wednesday.
The measure’s effects would be significant in Michigan, where one analysis found the state’s congressional map to be one of the most severely gerrymandered in the country. Since 2012, Republicans have consistently won nine of the state’s 14 congressional seats, even though Barack Obama carried the state that year and Donald Trump carried it in 2016 by just 0.4 percent. The certification came days after the U.S. Supreme Court passed on an opportunity to set limits on partisan gerrymandering.
Michigan lawmakers control the process of redrawing state and federal legislative districts, which is done every 10 years. If the ballot measure passes, it will amend the state constitution to create an independent commission with four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents to handle redistricting, and it will be required to hold at least 10 public hearings during the process.
The certification is a big victory for grassroots activists, who gathered enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot. The effort started when Katie Fahey, a Michigan resident who works on recycling issues, said in a Facebook post days after the 2016 elections that she wanted to take on gerrymandering in the state and asked if anyone else was interested.
A lot of other people were, and she established a group to focus on the effort. In December the group submitted more than 425,000 signatures — far exceeding the 315,354 required to get the proposal on the ballot.
“Voters know our state has some serious problems. Our roads are crumbling, our education system needs reform and in many communities, water isn’t safe to drink. This proposal is an important first step toward fixing our state so we can elect officials who are accountable to solve problems,” Fahey said in a statement.
The proposal faces a legal challenge from conservative groups that say such a change may not be decided via ballot initiative because it would amount to a general revision of the state constitution and revisions may be done only through a constitutional convention.
The Michigan court of appeals ruled against the challengers this month, saying the measure could go on the November ballot. The challengers appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which is considering whether to hear the case but declined to block the appeals court ruling before the Board of State Canvassers meeting on Wednesday.