Michigan voters face serious ballot proposal choices on November 6


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Many people sign off their emails (or introduce their books) by quoting Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world...”

In the case of this November election’s Proposal 18-2, which deals with the way voting districts are drawn, it has been just one person who devoted all her time and energy to solving what she saw as an overwhelming problem: currently the district outlines are created not by people who have to vote in them but by the political candidates who will be voted on.

After a Facebook posting to gauge interest, Grand Rapidian Katie Fahey started in public presentations with groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters (as reported in the Grand Rapids Legal News), and ended up taking matters into her own hands. She, along with the “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” she gathered around her, conducted listening sessions throughout the state to find people’s best ideas about how the district maps should be drawn; came up with the proper language for a constitutional amendment ballot proposal through the advice of many with experience; pulled together volunteers to collect signatures and obtained almost half again as many as were needed; withstood a court challenge; raised $1.6 million in over 16,000 donations; and are now running a tight campaign asking for a YES vote on what has been called the “anti-gerrymandering” proposal.

Her well-organized ground game, operating under Voters Not Politicians (VNP), has faced opposition all along (with the court challenge funded by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce in part), but, she said in an email, “The ballot question committee against us is Protect My Vote, which is funded by the Michigan Freedom Fund.” Protect My Vote recently released ads which VNP contends contain an absolute lie. (And Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad agrees.)

“Lies told by special interests invested in our current rigged system... are yet another attempt to mislead and confuse voters so they can maintain the status quo,” Fahey said in an official statement. “Proposal 2 puts more power in the voters’ hands, making politicians accountable to us, not lobbyists or special interests. We’re confident that when voters know the facts about Proposal 2, they will vote YES on Nov. 6.”
Proposal 18-2 creates a citizen redistricting committee, and the opposition’s ads say that the proposal “writes a blank check” to the members and implies that the costs would be astronomical. In reality, the proposal mandates that commissioner funding would be subject to the normal appropriations process in the Legislature and could be vetoed by the Michigan governor.

After VNP’s response, 19 radio stations pulled Protect My Vote’s ad.

The exact wording of the proposal:

“Proposal 2: Establish an independent citizens redistricting commission

“A proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution to create an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. If adopted, this amendment would transfer the authority to draw Congressional and State Legislative district lines from the Legislature and Governor to the Independent Commission. The selection process will be administered by the Secretary of State. Thirteen commissioners will be randomly selected from a pool of registered voters, and consist of four members who self-identify with each of the two major political parties, and five non-affiliated, independent members. Current and former partisan elected officials, lobbyists, party officers and their employees are not eligible to serve.”

Nancy Wang, the President of the Voters Not Politicans Board and a University of Michigan Law School professor until recently (now volunteering full time for the campaign) chaired the policy committee that very carefully and deliberately developed the actual proposal. They even were able to bring in expert Michael Li of the Brennan Center for Justice to help them shape it.

Wang says she thinks the worst of what the campaign has faced is the wonk-ish nature of redistricting and gerrymandering. “It may be a little hard to explain, but once you get someone’s attention, they’re like, yeah, the current system makes no sense. It’s critical reform that needs to happen how, especially with the census coming up in 2020. Since September. polls indicate that more and more people have heard of it, so that’s very exciting for us.”

To turn to Proposal 18-1, it is more straightforward:

“Proposal 1: Legalize recreational marijuana

“A proposed initiated law to authorize and legalize possession, use and cultivation of marijuana products by individuals who are at least 21 years of age and older, and commercial sales of marijuana through state-licensed retailers.” (There will then be bullet points explaining provisions.)

A yes vote would make Michigan the tenth state to pass recreational marijuana.

There was a panel on the subject in Grand Rapids Monday evening. Panel member business owner/housing advocate Tami VandenBerg, who is on the MI?Legalize board, says the two main concerns expressed were increased accessibility to youth, and that more people will drive while impaired. “But I don’t know that there’s going to be a lot more people using. There’s conflicting data coming out of the states that have passed it, but what I’ve seen indicates there hasn’t been a huge spike in people using it, so there probably won’t be a lot more people driving under the influence,” she says. “Most people, and most parents, are responsible, so I’m not sure there will be a lot more available to kids. Ask any teenager and they’ll tell you they can get it easily. But parents aren’t likely to leave edibles lying around any more than they leave guns lying around.”

Opponents see other problems as well, from considering it a “gateway” to the use of addictive drugs (marijuana itself is not considered addictive by most standards) to the fact that it will still be illegal at the federal level.  Those in favor, including VandenBerg, counter by noting that regulation should have a beneficial effect on a drug that people are going to use anyway (according to surveys), and  point to the racist history of U.S. prohibition of the drug and the huge amount of resulting incarceration.

Finally, Proposal 18-3 reads:

“Proposal 3: Voting Rights Policies Initiative

“A proposal to amend the Michigan Constitution of 1963 by amending Article II, Section 4. If adopted the proposal would provide citizens qualified to vote in Michigan with the following rights: to vote a secret ballot; for military and overseas voters to be sent a ballot 45 days before an election; to vote straight party on all partisan general election ballots; to be automatically registered to vote when obtaining a driver’s license or personal identification card from the Secretary of State, unless the person declines; to register to vote by mail on or before the 15th day before an election; to register to vote in person at any time with proof of residency; to vote an absentee ballot, by mail or in person, without giving a reason; and to have election results audited to ensure the accuracy of elections. This proposal is to be voted on at the November 6, 2018 general election.”

There does not seem to be much organized opposition to the 18-3, which originally stemmed from efforts by the ACLU. Many other states have similar provisions.

As of Oct. 26, the well-respected and usually accurate Epic MRA poll has all three proposals passing.

Legalizing marijuana has 57% in favor and 41% opposed, with only 2% remaining undecided.

Proposal 2 on gerrymandering draws 59% of those polled to a yes vote with only 29% opposed, but there are still 12% undecided.

And proposal 3 is up in the poll by a whopping 68% for and 26% opposed; 6% are still unsure.