MML #1: Stuff to Know about Redistricting and New Election Laws

MML #1: Stuff to  Know About Redistricting and New Election Laws

(Crystal A. Proxmire, April 29, 2019)

Lansing, MI- Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and other experts on local elections were on hand for the Michigan Municipal League Capital Conference in March educate elected officials from across the state on what newly-passed laws mean for them.

The new laws begin to affect communities as soon as the May 7, 2019 election.  In Oakland County this means those in Clawson, Oak Park, and Walled Lake School Districts, plus the Charter Township of Royal Oak will be the first with the new rules.

“I’m happy to be here in this moment enacting two really important proposals that voters voted on this past November,” Benson said.  “What we saw this November was voters want a democracy that works for everyone…a fair, engaged, and accessible democracy.

“All of that only comes to fruition if we implement it right at the local level.”

PROPOSAL TWO – REDISTRICTING

Voters Not Politicians was the force behind Proposal 2, a Constitutional Amendment to end gerrymandering, which passed with about 61% of the public voting yes. It was the favored outcome in 67 of Michigan’s 83 counties, and it had bipartisan support.

Nancy Wang, President of Voters Not Politicians, spoke about what comes next.

“People assume that first comes the Census, then comes the redistricting,” she said.  However, the process has already started as even forming the committee requires an inclusive and transparent process. Currently the Secretary of State is in the process of creating the application for commission members, and Voters Not Politicians continue with their role in advocacy and public awareness by hosting town halls across the state.

Provisions include:

-Requires formation of independent commission of citizens tasked with creating new congressional and State Senate/House districts after the 2020 census.

-13 registered voters randomly selected by the Secretary of State: Four self-identified Democrats, Four self-identified Republican, and Five who self-identify as unaffiliated with major political parties.

-Prohibits partisan officeholders and candidates, their employees, certain relatives, and lobbyists from serving as commissioners.

-Establishes new redistricting criteria including geographically compact and contiguous districts of equal population, reflecting Michigan’s diverse population and communities of interest.  Districts shall not provide disproportionate advantage to political parties or candidates.

-Requires an appropriation of funds for commission operations and commissioner compensation.

-SOS acts as a non-voting Secretary of the commission, tasked with providing technical assistance.

The timeline for implementation is:

January 1, 2020 – Applications to serve on the commission must be made available

June 1, 2020 – Deadline for accepting applications

September 1, 2020 – Commissioners must be selected

October 15, 2020 – Commissioners must hold first meeting by this date

November 1, 2021 – Deadline for the commission to adopt a redistricting plan for Michigan State House, Michigan State Senate, and U.S. Congressional Districts

Wang urged attendees to spread the word about the process and about the opportunity to apply. “This is not just map-drawing. This is a chance for the people to be heard,” she said.  Applications will be available at www.michigan.gov/sos/redistricting sometime by Jan. 1, 2020.

PROPOSAL THREE – ELECTION REFORM

Sally Williams, who serves the Secretary of State’s office as Elections Director, and Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope explained the list of changes mandated by Proposal Three.

Those changes are:

-Protection for the right to vote

-Straight ticket voting option

-Automatic voter registration if a resident does business at Secretary of State (unless they opt out)

-No reason absentee voting

-Post-election audits

-Voter registration may be done in person at Secretary of State, local clerk’s office, some other state agencies, or by mail until 15 days prior to the election.

-Clerks must offer a total of eight office hours in the weekend before an election so people can register.

-Starting at the 14th day prior to election a voter must register in person at clerk’s office in person with residency verification. People can register the day of the election at their local clerk’s office.  Those people can vote absentee at the clerk’s office or they can go to their precinct after registering.

“Our system is updated in real time,” Williams said.  “People won’t be able to hop from precinct to precinct on Election Day. There are protections in place.”

Swope, who has been City Clerk in Lansing for 13 years, added that all clerk’s offices must comply, even if they have only a few potential voters. This could add unexpected hours that municipalities may not be used to staffing.

Swope also said that clerks should be prepared for higher turnouts and more absentee ballots.  “We could see a doubling or tripling of absentee voters,” he said.

Benson and others in the Secretary of State’s Office have been working to inform voters and officials about the changes, with visits around the state.  Voters Not Politicians has been doing outreach and town halls as well.  “With so many significant changes, voters may not know they can take advantage of these new rights that are in our Constitution,” Benson said.

This article is the first in a series of articles about the Michigan Municipal League’s 2019 Capital Conference that took place March 19-20 in Lansing.   We will be sharing articles from the conference over the next few weeks.  If you aren’t already on our list for Daily Headlines, please sign up HERE so you won’t miss any of this exciting and informative series! Find other MML related articles HERE.

For more on Michigan Municipal League, check out their website at http://www.mml.org.

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