Michigan’s congressional districts rank among the most gerrymandered in the country. In fact, a new project providing historical data on gerrymandering identifies Michigan’s congressional districts as “more skewed than 95 percent of the enacted plans ... analyzed nationwide.” The state is divided nearly evenly between voters who prefer Democrats and those who prefer Republicans, yet eight of its 14 districts are solidly Republican (compared to only two solidly Democratic districts) - and only two are outside FairVote’s highest confidence level projections, per our Monopoly Politics project.
A group of dedicated activists wants to change that. After being started “almost by accident,” Voters Not Politicians quickly gained momentum and successfully collected almost 450,000 signatures in 120 days - solely through volunteers. The measure, known as Proposal 2, will go to voters on the November ballot. If passed, Michigan will follow states like Arizona and California in drawing districts via an independent redistricting commission.
Two aspects of Michigan’s proposals are particularly interesting. First, the commission must adopt a redistricting plan that does not provide a “disproportionate advantage to any political party.” This would be, so far as we can identify, the first time an independent commission was instructed to consider fairness when drawing districts.
Note, for instance, that although both California and Arizona also use independent redistricting commissions, both states’ districts provide a disproportionate advantage to Democrats. California instructs its commission not to consider voting history of districts at all, while Arizona instructs its commission to prioritize competitiveness, which often can be directly at odds with partisan fairness. Should Proposal 2 pass, it will provide a new opportunity to study how to achieve partisan fairness within single-winner districts, and how prioritizing fairness affects other redistricting priorities like compactness and competitiveness.
Interestingly, one component of Proposal 2 also incorporates ranked choice voting. Ordinarily, a redistricting plan must win support from a majority of the commission - including at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two unaffiliated members. Under the Michigan proposal, however, if no plan achieves that level of support, the commissioners nominate plans and rank them in order of choice.
The form of ranked choice voting used by the commission is called the Borda count, which differs from ranked choice voting as used in Maine and in 16 cities. Instead of a using a round-by-round count to determine which candidate has majority support, each ranking gives the district plan some number of points, and the plan with the most points wins. While this form of voting is vulnerable to strategic voting in public elections, it works well in smaller settings; it has been used effectively to select the Major League Baseball MVPs, for instance, and should see similar success in Michigan’s independent redistricting commission.
The use of ranked choice voting in the commission’s internal processes highlights how ranked ballots provide better decision-making in a variety of contexts.
Illustration by Mikhaila Markham