Monday, March 27, 2017

Voters Not Politicians Town Hall Meeting

The group Voters Not Politicians (VNP) held a town hall meeting yesterday in Kalamazoo which I attended. VNP is a ballot question committee working to get a state constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that reforms the redistricting process.
VNP has been holding these meetings all over the state of Michigan this month. Normally I'd have attended one closer to home, but my schedule was such that Kalamazoo was my best option. It's only about an hour drive. The First Congregational Church in downtown Kalamazoo were very gracious hosts, providing space for the around 100 attendees. The main presentation was given by Wayne State political science professor Kevin Deegan-Krause. He's a very enthusiastic and engaging speaker who kept things interesting, not an easy task with this kind of potentially dry subject matter.

The purpose of the meeting was to explain what VNP is trying to do, why they're doing it, and communicate the process. Put simply, they're trying to end the practice of gerrymandering in Michigan. Gerrymandering is the process of drawing political district boundaries to give advantage to a particular group, and as for why it should end, it's a major factor in skewing representation away from the actual voter proportions (which is something I've talked about before). In Michigan today, the districts are drawn by the legislature, who are the people who most directly benefit from that process - an obvious conflict of interest.

To end gerrymandering in Michigan, VNP is putting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2018 to establish an independent commission to draw district boundaries. That's a pretty long and involved process, thus the meetings happening more than a year before the election. They're working on the amendment wording now, and will be collecting voter signatures over the summer. Assuming that all goes well, the group will then be promoting the ballot measure next year leading up to election day.

The turnout for this meeting was great, with over 100 people on a Sunday afternoon, and the leaders mentioned that other meetings had been just as well attended. Gerrymandering has been a problem for a long time, but not many people in Michigan have been motivated to address it. The extreme partisanship of recent times and unhappiness with the last year's election results make this a great time to push for change in the political process, though, and VNP is in a good position to take advantage of that. They have my support and I very much hope they succeed.

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