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February 2011 TABLE OF CONTENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: page 2 POLITICAL MAP-MAKING LEAVES MANY VOTERS WITH UNCOMPETITIVE, PRE-DETERMINED ELECTIONS DETAILED FINDINGS: page 4 SAFE SEATS, A LACK OF COMPETITION, SYSTEMIC PARTISAN ADVANTAGE REACTION TO OUR FINDINGS: page 8 NO APOLOGIES FROM SOME INSIDERS, CONCERN FROM OTHERS HOW REDISTRICTING WORKS: page 10 THE HISTORY AND RULES GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: page 12 HOW POLITICIANS TURN REDISTRICTING INTO PARTISAN CHESS HANDICAPPING REDISTRICTING THIS YEAR page 16 NONPROFITS & WATCHDOGS CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY page 19 POTENTIAL LONG-TERM REFORMS page 20 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: POLITICAL MAP-MAKING LEAVES MANY VOTERS WITH UNCOMPETITIVE, PRE-DETERMINED ELECTIONS By Susan J. Demas and John Bebow In the past decade, voters decided 664 races for seats in the Michigan Legislature. The majority of those races were never in question. Millions of votes didn t really matter. Districts for many state representatives and senators are not competitive. Many seats are engineered for partisan advantage. A consequence is the practical disenfranchisement of many voters. As a result, average voters face an uncomfortable question: are our elections truly representative? If voters want true competition and choice at the ballot box, they can t wait until Election Day. Their time for input is now, when the maps are being drawn. Every 10 years, new Census data is used to draw the district boundaries for state and federal elected officials. In Michigan, the state legislature drives this process. To inform the 2011 Michigan redistricting process that is just getting underway, the Center for Michigan used state elections data to analyze the results of 664 state legislative races since boundaries were last redrawn in What we found: Over the past decade, Republicans enjoyed 43 safe seats in the state House and 19 safe seats in the Senate. Democrats had 42 safe seats in the House and 11 safe seats in the Senate. None of those seats ever changed hands between the parties. Republicans living in safe Democratic districts and Democrats living in safe Republican districts were essentially disenfranchised and accounted for almost 1.5 million votes in the 2010 statewide elections. Add to them the significant proportion of statewide voters who label themselves independents and it s easy to see that in many places voters realistic choices at the polls are severely limited. Only about one out of every seven Michigan residents lives in a swing district politically competitive areas where elections are truly up for grabs. These too rare places are where ticket-splitters and politically moderate voters can have more choices places where the character and ideas of individual candidates are arguably more likely to carry the day. In the Michigan House, only 16 of 110 districts are swing seats they either regularly changed hands between the parties or averaged a 3-percent margin or less over the past decade. In the Michigan Senate, only 6 of 38 seats ever changed party hands in the past decade. Only two seats featured consistently close races. A look inside redistricting Now it s true that Detroit is the most Democratic big city in America. And Ottawa County west of Grand Rapids is known as a GOP bastion. But, collectively, Michigan is a purple state the electorate is pretty evenly split between the two major political parties. So why are so few seats in the Michigan Legislature regularly up for grabs? To a large extent, you can blame the redistricting process -- what Republican Governors Association (RGA) attorney Ben Ginsberg calls the great passion play of American politics. There s emotion, the raw power is high, he said at a nationwide election forum. (Consultants) get really jazzed up about the magic and voodoo we can do. 2 Much of the process takes place behind closed doors between legislative and party leaders. Few voters follow the machinations. There are probably 11 of us out there who are total redistricting junkies, said Tim Story, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). So this is our time. Last time around, in 2001, Michigan Republicans owned the redistricting process thanks to their control of the state House, Senate, the governorship and the state Supreme Court. As this report demonstrates, Republicans fared well under the maps they drew 10 years ago, as expected. Democrats followed a similar playbook, with similarly favorable results, when they had the upper hand in earlier decades. Redistricting in Michigan is a political process, longtime Democratic Party insider Rick Wiener said last month at a redistricting forum in Lansing. It has been when Democrats controlled it. And it is when Republicans apparently control it. Lines also are crafted to help particularly powerful lawmakers and to create as many safe seats as possible for the two major political parties. You have a situation where the Legislature is picking their own voters, said Christina Kuo, Michigan executive director of the good government group, Common Cause. As always, money is an issue. Fewer competitive seats mean both political parties can better manage political fundraising and advertising. Both parties want to spend most of their money at the top of the ticket, said Bernie Porn, president of the Lansing polling firm EPIC-MRA who worked for Democrats during the 1980s redistricting. They want to spend money on TV and not worry about spending $250,000 or more on each competitive legislative seat. This year, Republicans control every leg of the redistricting stool just as they did in Many observers expect a repeat of the last go-round. One key difference this time is citizen-friendly technology. Thanks to Google maps and a wealth of district population information online, citizens can fiddle around with legislative boundaries in the comfort of their own homes. Even redistricting software used by states is much cheaper than it was a decade ago. Across the nation, reform-minded groups are sizing up their redistricting processes this year. Beyond Michigan, a number of other states use independent redistricting commissions which are somewhat depoliticized. A handful of states require the competitiveness of districts to be taken into consideration as new boundaries are drawn. In Michigan, large-scale reforms like those are not likely this year. But there is the possibility for increased transparency and citizen involvement through more public hearings. Those are goals of a new Redistricting Collaborative, of which the Center for Michigan is a member. Last time, redistricting was a very closely held thing by leadership within the caucuses, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN), a member of the collaborative. But it s not just about political parties and caucuses. It s about the voters. This is how we re represented. This report is not intended to question the legitimacy of any individual sitting legislator. And, to the average voter, redistricting might seem like the ultimate act of inside baseball. But it s important to consider that those little lines on little maps dictate big-time political power. 3 DETAILED FINDINGS: SAFE SEATS, A LACK OF COMPETITION, SYSTEMIC PARTISAN ADVANTAGE The last three Michigan elections earned big headlines for big turnover. In 2006, a Democratic wave gave them control of the House. In 2008, the Obama wave helped Democrats solidify that House control. In 2010, Republicans exacted revenge by winning the governorship and reclaiming a convincing majority in the House. At first blush, those results suggest a state with healthy political competition. Look carefully at the details though, and you ll find a system stacked to assure only a handful of competitive races and a system in which statewide voters are not completely in control. This year, for the first time in a decade, Michigan s political boundaries will be redrawn. The details of how we elect members of Congress and the Michigan Legislature will change as they do every 10 years in response to population changes indicated by the Census. This process of redistricting is, in theory, supposed to assure fair and accurate political representation. In reality, it is a high-stakes, insiders game in which true competition is an afterthought at best. Few of the many people who proudly wear those I voted stickers in November will give redistricting even a passing thought this year. Yet the process is fundamental to how we vote and who we vote for. The accompanying map summarizes our findings. Spreadsheets documenting every race and summarizing the cumulative results from can be downloaded at uploads/2011/02/redistricting_spreadsheet_master.xls 4 HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ( ELECTION RESULTS) 110 TOTAL SEATS PURPLE = 16 swing seats. Statistically close or regularly changed party. RED = 43 safe GOP seats. Consistent landslides. Didn t change party. BLUE = 42 safe DEM seats. Consistent landslides. Don t change party. WHITE = 9 other seats. Usually safe seats, but changed party once. SOURCES: All election results data compiled by The Center for Michigan from official state elections results. (http://www.michigan. gov/sos/0,1607, _ ,00.html) 5 SENATE ( ELECTION RESULTS) 38 TOTAL SEATS PURPLE = 2 swing seats. Statistically close or regularly changed party. RED = 21 safe GOP seats. Consistent landslides. Didn t change party. BLUE = 11 safe DEM seats. Consistent landslides. Don t change party. WHITE = 4 other seats. Usually safe seats, but changed party once. SOURCES: All election results data compiled by The Center for Michigan from official state elections results. (http://www.michigan. gov/sos/0,1607, _ ,00.html) 6 Our analysis highlights three key concerns for Michigan voters: 1. LACK OF COMPETITION Despite those wave elections, few state House and Senate seats ever experience a true power shift. Only about one in seven Michigan residents live in what could be deemed a consistently competitive swing district. In the Michigan House, only 25 of 110 districts changed party control at least once in the past decade. Only 16 districts are true swing seats. In these seats, one of the following happened over the past decade They averaged a 3-point margin or less. In other words, the results over the decade averaged no more than a 51.5 to 48.5 percentage spread for either party. Republicans and Democrats truly split control of the seat, with neither party winning more than three of the five elections in the past decade. In the Michigan Senate, only six of 38 districts changed party control at least once in the past decade. Only two districts had average margins of 3 percent or less. 2. ENGINEERED PARTISAN ADVANTAGE Republicans hold a disproportionate advantage in Michigan elections an advantage party bosses freely acknowledge they tried to engineer in the last redistricting in It s not a new strategy Democrats sought to do it in previous decades when they had control. The GOP proportion of statewide seats is consistently higher than the GOP proportion of statewide votes over the past decade. In the House, the GOP collected 47 percent of the statewide vote and 50.7 percent of the total seats. In the Senate, the GOP collected 49.3 percent of the statewide vote and 60.5 percent of the total seats. Under current district boundaries, it is extremely difficult if not impossible for Democrats to ever gain majority control in the Senate. In 17 districts, Democrats averaged a deficit of at least 10 percentage points over the decade. They averaged no closer than a 7-percent deficit in four other districts. The Democrats best showing of the decade was in 2006 when they narrowed the GOP majority to Democrats came within 1,200 votes (or less than one percentage point) of carrying two more seats and tying the GOP with 19 seats each. But the rest of the seats remained solidly GOP, with none closer than a 2-point margin and 13 maintained double-digit margins. 3. PRACTICAL DISENFRANCHISEMENT In the state House, the GOP kept an unbreakable lock on 43 seats over the past decade and the Democrats likewise controlled 42 seats. The outcomes were never in question the dominant party averaged at least 55 percent of the vote (a 10-point spread is not a close election). In the state Senate, the GOP held the same systemic dominance on 17 seats while Dems dominated 11 seats. So, many Michigan voters are arguably disenfranchised because the general election outcomes in their legislative districts are never in question. Many Republican voters and ticket-splitting moderates are trapped in deep-blue districts. Many Democratic voters and ticket-splitting moderates are trapped in deep-red districts. In November 2010 alone, Michigan residents cast more than 1.4 million votes for legislative candidates who had no real shot at winning, based on historical partisan voting patterns. 7 REACTION TO OUR FINDINGS: NO APOLOGIES FROM SOME INSIDERS, CONCERN FROM OTHERS We interviewed nearly two dozen elections and redistricting experts and political party insiders for this report. None disputed our findings. As Michigan Chamber of Commerce legal counsel and redistricting veteran Bob LaBrant quipped, the statistics is what they is. Redistricting experts and insiders from both major political parties are quick to point out that competitive seats simply aren t part of the game plan. They re not required by the state election law, redistricting standards, or related court decisions. At an educational forum in January, Labrant noted the lack of competition by raising the extreme examples of Democrats in Ottawa County and Republicans in downtown Detroit having effectively no voice in elections. In those cases, you re going to feel like your vote is wasted, Labrant said. That s just a consequence of the system we have. But he argued that the 2006 Democratic wave in the state House and the party s strong showing that year in Senate races shows there is plenty of accountability. Others are troubled by the lack of competition. Dennis Darnoi, a longtime GOP political consultant and former legislative staffer who worked on the 2001 redistricting, acknowledged he was surprised and disturbed -- by how few legislative districts are truly competitive. Being purely political, I can say, To the victors go the spoils, Darnoi said. The Democrats do the same thing. But from a policy purist standpoint, having so many voters that don t have a choice violates the underlying principle of voting. Competitive districts can be drawn if competitiveness becomes a priority in Michigan as it is in some states, argues pollster Porn who also worked on behalf of Democrats on numerous redistricting plans. Porn said districts that are competitive often produce high-quality legislators with a little more common sense. In his assessment, it wouldn t take too much work or political sacrifice to make 30 percent to 40 percent of legislative seats competitive a big improvement over the current map. Unless and until competitive races become a priority, we wind up electing people to the Legislature really on the extreme of both parties when there aren t competitive seats, said former Lt. Governor John Cherry, a key Democratic point person in the Senate during the 2001 redistricting. When competing in primaries, people play to the extremes. It hurts bipartisanship. Kuo, the Common Cause director, notes that primary turnout is low. As a result of having so many noncompetitive seats, she said many lawmakers are only accountable to 15 percent of the people. In some (House) districts, that s only 2,000 people. Porn agrees and uses the state budget process as an example. He said that lawmakers in the many safe GOP seats can afford to be rigid in pushing for cuts-only budgets. Polling shows that Republicans favor that solution, whereas Democrats and independents are more open to new revenues, like closing tax loopholes. But Republicans in safe seats don t have to listen to those constituents. On the flip side, one could argue that Democratic primaries are dominated by an extreme wing less likely to agree to middle-ground budget cuts. Insiders on both sides of the aisle from Democrat John Cherry to Republican Saul Anuzis freely admitted 8 that the political parties are the first to push for the highest possible number of safe seats. Money is absolutely a big motivator, Anuzis said. A competitive state House seat can run up an expensive tab. The same goes for interest groups playing in elections, ranging from the Michigan Chamber on the right to the Michigan Education Association (MEA) on the left. Noncompetitive, predictable outcomes in the maximum number of seats are the most cost-efficient way to manage an election for all sides. Parties don t like to play on such a broad field money wise, said campaign finance watchdog Robinson. Brittany Galisdorfer, Earhart fellow with the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council, notes that academic research has been inconclusive about the effects of more competitive seats. The general theory is that competitive districts mean less extreme political candidates, less political partisanship and ensure basic fairness, she said. But there s no consensus that those things actually occur. 9 HOW REDISTRICTING WORKS: THE HISTORY AND RULES Redistricting is the most partisan thing the Legislature does, said former Senate Majority Leader Dan DeGrow (R-Port Huron), one of the architects of the 2001 maps. You have to understand the process. And if you don t like it, get the majority. A decade earlier, in 1981, DeGrow was on the receiving end of controversial redistricting plans drawn by Democrats then in control in Lansing. Spare me the righteous crying, he said. I ve been on the other side. It isn t personal; it s just business. To understand the 2011 map drawing, it helps to understand Michigan s past political cartography. Many districts in the United States used to be mal-apportioned districts weren t anywhere close to having the same population base, said LaBrant, who has helped advise and finance GOP redistricting efforts for four decades. Then the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the 1960s and helped put a stop to some gerrymandering. In Michigan, Senate boundaries were frozen from 1925 to So it used to be a lot worse, LaBrant said. You don t have the egregious, goofy-looking districts from the last decade what I call modern works of art. It was a very different time. Change also came with the 1963 Michigan Constitution, which established an eight-member redistricting committee evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Not surprisingly, the committee ended up deadlocking during the 1971 and 1981 battles and the courts had to step in. In the 70s, Democrats held a majority on the Supreme Court, so their redistricting proposal was adopted. In the 1980s, a three-judge panel appointed Bernie Apol, the retired state director of elections, to devise a plan resulting in the state s Apol standards. Apol s rules direct the state to create state legislative districts that: Contain roughly equal populations Feature contiguous and compact boundaries Maintain respect for municipal and county boundaries to the extent possible Assure representation for minority groups In 1991 and 2001, legislative leaders and the governor ran the process, with input from party leaders and attorneys. Their plans can be (and inevitably have been) challenged in state and federal court. To better guide the process, lawmakers codified the Apol standards in When the Apol standards were created, some redistricting veterans, including Michigan Supreme Court Justice Charles Levin, thought there would be only one way to draw a map. Never underestimate the ingenuity of lawmakers, however -- especially when self-preservation is involved. In reality, there are usually about a halfdozen maps or so that would comply with the standards, said Porn. That comes with its own set of complications, however, as Robinson, t
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