Nancy Wang, director of Voters Not Politicians, Oct. 24, 2019 | C.J. Moore
The nonprofit group that successfully pushed to amend the Michigan Constitution and create a nonpartisan citizen-led redistricting process, took a moment Thursday to both reflect on the success of that effort, but also to say it was, “moving forward to protect rights of Michigan voters.”
Voters Not Politicians (VNP), which helped establish the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC), held a virtual media briefing to celebrate the Tuesday filing deadline for candidates running for Congress, Michigan House and Senate seats under maps drawn by the commission.
VNP Executive Director Nancy Wang said that while the commission continues to defend the newly created maps from various court challenges, the implementation of their effort that began more than five years ago was worth recognizing.
“We didn’t want Tuesday’s historic milestone to pass without us taking our breath and really appreciating where we are, how much work it took to get here and all of the success that we have been able to generate here in Michigan,” said Wang. “We started in 2016 from nothing…and we were trying to figure out a way we could really, really have an independent commission of just citizens, taking politicians out of our process altogether.”
Wang noted that they had “opposition all the way” and had to go to the Michigan Supreme Court to even get the initiative on the ballot in 2018, which passed by an almost two-thirds majority.
“Here we are on the eve of the candidate filing deadline and we accomplished everything that we wanted to as a state,” she said. “It really is a huge success story and something we can be really proud of.”
Also taking part in the briefing was David Daley, author of “Unrigged” and a senior fellow with FairVote, a nonprofit organization that advocates for electoral reform. He said he had been writing about redistricting and gerrymandering for ten years and what Michigan accomplished with the MCRC was a singular achievement.
“I have never seen a transformation as complete as the one we are watching here in Michigan,” said Daley. “You’re going from one of the most gerrymandered states in the country to a state that is really set up to be … a gold standard for other states that are looking at their own twisted politics and trying to find a way out.”
Daley said what makes Michigan stand out even more in its effort at redistricting reform was the complete removal of politicians from the process.
“You’re watching this play out next door in Ohio,” he said. “I know Michigan and Ohio like to have a competition oftentimes, and when it comes to redistricting there is no doubt who the winner is. In Michigan you are going to have competitive, balanced races for Congress and your state legislature. In Ohio, there aren’t even any districts as of today and you are looking at millions of dollars in legal fees and the prospect of fair maps very, very far away.”
Daley said while the two states came up with similar reforms, they did not work the same way. “In Michigan, you kept the politicians out of the process, and in Ohio they were allowed to stay in the process, and that is the difference between a process that works and produced fair maps and one that ends up in court, and in gridlock.”
But the briefing was also an opportunity for VNP to lay out its agenda moving forward. The group’s data and targeting manager, Charlie Beall said they were committed to protecting the rights of Michigan voters and had “proudly” joined the Promote the Vote coalition.
That effort is working to collect signatures for a constitutional amendment that would, among other things, require nine days of early in-person voting, allow military or overseas ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day and provide voters the right to verify identity with photo ID or a signed affidavit.
Beall said VNP had mobilized over 120 volunteer leaders who have in turn recruited over 1,600 volunteers in 65 of Michigan’s 83 counties to collect signatures for Promote the Vote.
Wang was asked about efforts to not only help Promote the Vote, but also help defeat the Republican-backed Secure MI Vote ballot petition.
That effort would prohibit election officials from sending out absentee ballot applications without a specific request from a voter, while also requiring voters who show up on election day without an ID to use a provisional ballot that would not be counted unless that person proves their identity with their local clerk’s office within six days. Currently, voters without an ID must sign an affidavit attesting to their identity under penalty of perjury. If ultimately passed, Secure MI Vote would allow the GOP-controlled legislature to avoid a certain veto from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Wang said while VNP was making sure voters were aware that the Secure MI Vote effort was an effort to suppress voting rights, they weren’t following around the signature gatherers.
“Our priority is now to get the 600,000 signatures that we want to get to qualify for the ballot for Promote the Vote 2022,” said Wang. “At the same time though, we’re getting lots of questions about what else is out there. We’re using every opportunity we can to educate voters about what is going on and how there are kind of pro-voter initiatives and efforts including our big coalition [which includes the League of Women Voters and the NAACP] and then at the same time that these kinds of anti-voter suppression stuff is still happening.”
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