- Associated Press - Thursday, August 17, 2017

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Advocates of a less partisan redistricting process and paid sick days will start collecting voter signatures for the 2018 ballot after clearing a procedural step Thursday at the Michigan elections board.

Voters Not Politicians, a grass-roots group of volunteers proposing to amend the state constitution to create an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative districts, needs more than 315,000 valid signatures to qualify. The governor and Legislature now control the once-a-decade redistricting process - which has led to seats that are politically gerrymandered to guarantee as many comfortable seats as possible for the majority party, currently the GOP.

The measure would form a 13-member commission, drawn at random by the secretary of state from a pool of qualified applicants. There would be four Democrats, four Republicans and five commissioners with no affiliation with either major party. The commission would be prohibited from providing a “disproportionate advantage” to a political party, using “accepted measures of partisan fairness.”

Voters Not Politicians said it has thousands of volunteers to gather signatures. Circulating enough petitions without paid staff will be difficult, though, because there is a six-month window in which to collect signatures.

“We crafted a policy to bring the process of redistricting back into the hands of voters, not the politicians,” said Nancy Wang, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan Law School who serves as both vice president and policy director of the anti-gerrymandering group.

“The hallmark … is pulling back the curtain on redistricting and allowing the public to have a crucial role.”

MI Time to Care, a ballot committee of labor interests and community organizers, wants to ensure that workers earn one hour of paid leave for every 30 worked. The initiative mirrors one that failed to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

It would first go to the GOP-led Legislature for consideration if more than 252,000 valid signatures are certified, but would likely be decided by voters because similar Democratic-sponsored bills have died in Lansing.

Contessa Washington, a 37-year-old from Pontiac who is a volunteer with the group Mothering Justice, said she was forced to quit her full-time job as a dispatcher for a garbage company because one of her three children had health problems and needed to see a doctor, but she only got five days off a year.

She said she needed a job “that I can come to and not feel that I’m pulled from being a mother for coming to work every day,” especially when someone in her family becomes ill. She now works part time at a hospital but makes less.

In addition to approving petition forms for the anti-gerrymandering and pro-sick time ballot drives, the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers also OK’d Abrogate Prohibition Michigan’s petition that would amend the constitution to legalize marijuana for recreational use without taxing the drug. The group launched a similar unsuccessful drive in 2016. Another better-funded marijuana legalization drive, which would tax pot, already is underway.


Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/David%20Eggert .

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