Column: Good candidates, not maps, alter election results

Originally published in the Detroit News, on May 16, 2019, here.

Late last month, a trio of activist judges on the U.S. District Court handed down a decision that sent shockwaves through Lansing’s political class and may soon deprive you of the right to be represented by the man or woman you recently elected.

The judges sided with a liberal political group and Democratic attorneys, declaring Michigan’s current legislative boundary maps unconstitutionally gerrymandered and ordered lawmakers to draw new maps before the summer is out, for new elections in 2020. Of course, a new “commission” will almost immediately after that election begin drawing another set of maps for use in 2022 – the result of last year’s Proposal 2.

Republicans are asking the United States Supreme Court to defend the sanctity of your vote, and to step in and to block the lower court’s ruling. They’ve got a better case than you probably imagine. 

That’s because the common claims that the current maps put Democrats at an unfair disadvantage in Michigan are sheer and utter nonsense – and the math proves it.

Back in 2012, when voters went to the polls to elect our leaders in maps drawn after the most recent census – the maps still in use today – Michigan’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow won 59% of the vote. You’d assume, given the Left’s heartburn over the maps that she only managed to carry a few dozen House districts and that her voters were unfairly and tightly concentrated in just a few urban districts in and around Detroit.

You’d be wrong.  Stabenow carried 80% of state House Districts. The Democrat won in 87 out of 110 districts. The Democrat at the top of the ticket actually carried 36 Districts where a Republican won the state House race. 

Similar numbers held true two years later when it was Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters on the ballot. He carried 72 of the districts, including 27 that were won by a Republican state House candidate. That year, there were even House districts that voted for the Democrat in the U.S. Senate, the Democrat for governor, and still the Republican candidate for the state House. 

Voters evaluate each race and each candidate on his or her own merits, and that leads to plenty of ticket splitting. It’s why Democrats like Sens. Stabenow and Peters can win their races while Republicans dominated statewide offices. Remember – until last year, Michigan voters hadn’t elected a Democrat to the governor’s office, secretary of state, or attorney general’s office since 2006, and President Donald Trump, a Republican, won the state’s popular vote, too.

Looking more closely at Michigan’s 110 districts since 2012, 46 have only been won by a Democrat, 23 have only been won by a Republican, and 41 have been won by both Republicans and Democrats since 2012. In other words, Democrats can and have won 87 of the different seats, and Republicans just 64. 

The state’s current 14 member congressional delegation is split evenly, seven to seven.

The fact is, this case has never been about fairness to voters – it’s always been about stacking the deck for Democrats. That’s the kind of strategy born out of a different crisis. Democrats don’t have a map problem; for years in state legislative and congressional races, they’ve had a bad candidate problem.

If lawmakers are indeed forced to redraw maps this summer, they must go in with eyes wide open. So should eventual commissioners following the 2020 census. Draw the best, fairest maps possible and stand strong against bullying to rig the game in favor of the loudest political party.

Map makers will never make the Left happy. They shouldn’t bother to try.

Greg McNeilly is president of the Michigan Freedom Fund.

Posted in Elections, Michigan News, Michigan Opinion
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