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Frustration Fuels Michigan Voters To Change Redistricting Rules

Katie Fahey
Cheyna Roth
Katie Fahey is the founder of Voters Not Politicians, a group that aims to change the way Michigan draws its political district lines.

This November, voters in four states will consider whether to take that redistricting away from politicians. And that includes Michigan. The energy powering Voters Not Politicians’ redistricting initiative is fueled by a frustration with government as usual.

It started with a Facebook post after the 2016 election.

"I’d like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan," said Katie Fahey, the organizer of Voters Not Politicians. "If you’re interested in doing this as well, please let me know. Smiley face."

She had put up a similar post years ago. "And nobody even liked it."

But this time, people were clicking the like button. And they actually wanted to help. Fahey is showing off Voters Not Politicians’ newest field office.

The redistricting initiative she launched has amassed hundreds of volunteers and raised more than a million dollars in donations.

Everything is donated – from old computers to the furniture; which has people’s names taped to the bottoms so they can get their chairs and tables back.

"I’m hoping to find a coffee maker that can be donated with some food and stuff like that," said Fahey.

Right now, lawmakers in power get together and draw the district lines, before getting them approved by the governor.

Michael Li is senior redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. He said Michigan’s maps are among the most skewed in the country.  

"It’s very clear that their number one goal, above protecting communities - ethnic, geographic, otherwise in Michigan," said Li. "It’s very clear that their number one goal was to maximize Republican political power."

Republicans have taken the majority of the state’s congressional seats - 9 out of 14, even in years when Democrats have gotten far more votes overall.  

The redistricting proposal would create a commission made up of 4 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 5 Independents. A majority that includes a mix of all three would have to agree on the maps.

But the opposition calls the proposal an expensive way to change a system that already works.

Linda Lee Tarver is a Republican and has worked for four Secretaries of State. She said this whole thing is skewed to help Democrats.

"It’s a gimmick and it bypasses our elected officials and our democracy," said Tarver. "And if they want to have the pen, they need to win elections."

The initiative comes at a time when voters are frustrated with politics and government.

Bernie Porn is president of EPIC M-R-A, a polling and research firm.

"It has been something that has been building for years," said Porn. 

He said that frustration came to a head in 2016.

"People were dissatisfied," said Porn. "They think that the government at the federal level is really looking out for members of Congress, their donors, and corporations and they’re left out in the cold."

Polls looking at the redistricting proposal show it’s been gaining popularity over the last few weeks. But it’s still a difficult subject to get people excited about.

Shakena Hannah of Detroit plans to vote in November and she’s leaning in favor of the proposal.

"One reason is because why should the person in office get to decide like who gets to vote in that area when I should have a right to choose and it just makes me wonder well how much rights do we really have?," said Hannah.

Even if the redistricting measure passes, that’s not the end of the road. Legal challenges to the commission’s decisions seem all but certain.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County.
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