May 24, 2011 Bookmark and Share

Townsend's plan protects voters, not politicians, during redistricting

Legislator calls for independent commission to draw new boundaries

LANSING - State Representative Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak) today introduced legislation to take politics out of the redistricting process by putting an independent panel in charge of redrawing Michigan’s legislative boundaries in the future.

“The way that Michigan does redistricting right now is far from the transparent, fair and nonpartisan process that our residents deserve,” Townsend said. “Allowing legislators to draw their own districts is an egregious conflict of interest that violates Michigan voters’ rights to equal and effective representation. The only way to make the redistricting process equitable is to make it apolitical by putting an independent commission in charge. As we work to protect voters’ rights as much as possible this year, now is the time to create a system that will put voters first in the future.”

In Michigan, the Legislature is in charge of redistricting, which takes place every 10 years based on population shifts found in the U.S. Census. Michigan’s plan must be completed by Nov. 1. The majority party typically uses its power to redraw the lines in a way that favors its members, creating districts that are not truly politically competitive and thereby disenfranchising voters.

Townsend’s legislation calls for the creation of nine-member independent commission that would be subject to both the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act. Members would be prohibited from receiving gifts or loans from PACs, lobbyists, unions, businesses and nonprofits.

Applications to join the commission would go through the Auditor General’s Office, which would appoint five members of the commission. The House Speaker, House Minority Leader, Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader would each choose one member to round out the panel.

Among those ineligible to apply would be elected officials; state contractors or their employees; registered lobbyists; employees of a partisan caucus or political party; and employees of an organization that is prohibited from giving gifts or loans to the commission and its members.

“For too long, Michigan’s redistricting process has allowed politicians to pick their voters, instead of the other way around,” said Christina Kuo, executive director of Common Cause Michigan.

“Rep. Townsend’s bill puts Michigan at the forefront in a movement to change the status quo and give citizens the power to draw the lines for their legislative districts. I hope Rep. Townsend’s colleagues in the House and Senate will follow his example and put the well-being of Michigan’s communities first before their own personal political interests.”

 

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State Representative Jim Townsend

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