Citizens allotted for drawing electoral districts in Michigan

Back in January it was reported that Michigan has sent out invitations to voters to apply to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. 13 citizens have now been selected to serve on the commission “charged with drawing new district lines for members of the state House and Senate”.

The commission is being assembled as a result of a November 2018 ballot proposal, Proposal 2 which passed with support from 61% of voters. Redistricting was previously handled by the Michigan legislature and approved by the governor, which, Proposal 2 supporters pointed out, allowed politicians to set their own district lines.

Despite the rather limited purview of the commission, it has two important characteristics that set it as an independent source of political power and thus lend it importance. First, the body was constituted through a ballot measure. Thus it was legitimated and mandated directly by the citizens. Second, the body’s function is to supervise, and indeed to limit the power of, the elected officials.

Information about the allotment is available on the state government website. Some of the skews in the applications demographics are quite interesting.

9 Responses

  1. This is huge. Real power divvied up via sortition. The details are also interesting, visible in the applications. It is interesting that the commissioners are paid well above the average wage and that they must attend at least 15 public hearings throughout the State.
    I ask myself, is it necessary to give the current legislature the ability to strike a number of potential commissioners (like lawyers in a trial jury voir dire?

    But the bigger question: if you are going to use sortition, why not save time, money, energy and USE SORTITION to DRAW THE DISTRICTS in the first place. Couldn’t this be a simple open source transparent algorithm! Equivalently, just get rid of districts all together and have at large legislators and give voters multiple votes they could pool to make sure whatever is DEAREST TO THEM is repressed at the state-level.

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  2. I don’t think the process behind this is really sound. The send out 10,000 applications to random voters; a fine start. But then they throw out a bunch of those applications on technical grounds, then engage in some ill-defined stratified sampling to “represent the geographic and demographic diversity of the state” (https://votersnotpoliticians.com/redistricting/fulltimeline/). Who decides what that is? It also sounds eerily like the argument in favor of the Senate: farmers deserve ridiculous over-representation because of geographic diversity.

    Maybe these guys will do a better job than the legislature. That’s a pretty low bar, though.

    Ahmed:> Equivalently, just get rid of districts all together and have at large legislators and give voters multiple votes they could pool to make sure whatever is DEAREST TO THEM is [represented] at the state-level

    Yes, that would be much simpler. That’s why it didn’t happen. I’m always amazed that Americans tolerate these deliberately over-complicated political structures. These choke points–the stratified sampling, the disqualification of certain voters on technical grounds, and classification of applicants into republican, democrat, and independent despite the malleability of these labels–are not accidental. They are hooks for politicians to exercise control, most likely of a corrupt variety.

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  3. Ahmed,

    > Couldn’t this be a simple open source transparent algorithm!

    Open source algorithm – probably. Simple and transparent – probably not, unless you are an algorithm expert and are putting some significant effort into studying the algorithm. And once the algorithm is not simple, why would the average citizen trust that it is not gamed in one way or another?

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  4. This is great. It transfers the power to draw the electoral districts from incumbent politicians to a stratified random sample of citizens, 4 Republican, 4 Democrat, 5 affiliated with neither of those parties.

    It helps spread awareness about the highly democratic possibilities of juries, and the possibility of transferring decisions from politicians to juries.

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  5. By the way, party affiliation in Michigan is by no means equal: https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/state/michigan/party-affiliation/. The redistricting commission seems to think that republicans deserve equal footing despite being outnumbered nearly 3 to 2. This imbalance could easily get worse over time. In addition, what do we mean by “independent”? If the independents end up leaning to one party more than another, that could make the commission even more imbalanced.

    Stratified sampling is ultimately incompatible with democracy. It gives politicians control over the makeup of the minipublic. While it may work if it is done in good faith, that cannot be guaranteed procedurally. Only random selection with mandatory service provides a real representative guarantee.

    Most likely, this commission will provide a 50/50 split in the Michigan congressional delegation. That’s not right. It’s purpose is to draw districts fairly, so that the delegation reflects the population, irrespective of partisan outcome.

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  6. Alex, a few things to bear in mind.

    13 is not at all large enough for a representative random sample. (No one would consider an opinion with 13 respondents an accurate statement of public opinion.)

    Although Democrats may outnumber Republicans, the point is to get fair boundaries for both parties. So equal representation of the two parties makes some sense in this case. 5 independents also makes sense.

    The overwhelming majority of Americans oppose gerrymandering, including large majorities of independents, Democrats and Republicans. It is only among incumbent politicians that gerrymandering is popular.

    The legislation is not the work of politicians, it was passed by ballot initiative.

    Getting the drawing of boundaries out of the hands of politicians, and into the hands of citizens, is the key thing that needs to be done, and this proposal does that.

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  7. Simon:> 13 is not at all large enough for a representative random sample. (No one would consider an opinion with 13 respondents an accurate statement of public opinion.)

    Exactly. Not democratic.

    Simon:> Although Democrats may outnumber Republicans, the point is to get fair boundaries for both parties.

    NO IT’S NOT!!!!! It’s to get representative boundaries for the citizenry. Look, parties are an important part of a political system. They can do good if they have the proper role. But they are never stakeholders in the electoral system. Whatever “stake” they have is the result of elections, not the source of them. The polity is the only stakeholder in the electoral process itself.

    Simon:> The overwhelming majority of Americans oppose gerrymandering

    Agreed. Then why gerrymander the commission? Having 4 republicans and 4 democrats by law is a form of gerrymandering.

    Simon:> The legislation is not the work of politicians, it was passed by ballot initiative.

    The public was given an up or down choice on a system that is undoubtedly better than the previous system, since the previous system was literally the worst one possible. What’s needed is an ideologically diverse set of 3 or 4 options to choose from.

    Simon:> Getting the drawing of boundaries out of the hands of politicians, and into the hands of citizens, is the key thing that needs to be done, and this proposal does that.

    I agree. This proposal is a huge improvement. But it’s not a huge improvement because it follows the principles of sortition. It’s an improvement because it replaces a system which is literally the worst one humanly imaginable.

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  8. […] Citizens allotted for drawing electoral districts in Michigan […]

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  9. […] Rothchild, Professor of Law at Wayne State University, writes approvingly in The Conversation about Michigan’s new allotted electoral redistricting commission. Rather naively, Rothchild seems to believe that democratic redistricting could result in the […]

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