January 6, 2022
Jessica Swartz has a pretty extensive resume both inside and outside of VNP. She is the Deputy General Counsel at Western Michigan University and a Girl Scout Troop Leader. Jessica has worn a number of hats within VNP including Prop 2 petition circulator and co-team lead, and Nights & Weekends team leader.
Jessica got involved with VNP in 2017. After the 2016 elections, she felt compelled to do something, but wasn’t sure what until Voters Not Politicians came along. Ending gerrymandering was at the top of Jessica’s list of priorities to make sure that politicians were accountable and working on the issues affecting their constituents.
It comes down to what we were founded on: one person one vote, a representative democracy. The people who are in the legislature and in Congress need to represent the people who are in their districts. That was not the case. One party should not have to win 75% of the vote in order to get 51% of the seats in congress or the state legislature. It was the politicians choosing their voters and not the other way around. Given all of the issues that I feel very strongly about, this was the number one because if your vote doesn’t count then it doesn’t matter what you would want to do with the environment or lgbtq rights or disability rights or any of those other things because your vote doesn’t count. This was a gatekeeper to being able to get the rest of that work done.
People were aware of the problems associated with gerrymandering, but up until Voters Not Politicians not much action had been taken to address the issue in Michigan. However, VNP unleashed something truly powerful with Prop 2. Jessica was stunned by the pace and the energy fueling VNP’s cause.
I was surprised by the speed with which we got up and running. We went from a Facebook post to this group that changed the Michigan Constitution. It was not at all clear at the beginning of the process that we would be successful. We got attention from donors and supporters from across the country. Arnold Schwarzenegger was here to talk to us about this. I didn’t expect this to be as big as it is but it shows that there was that gap that needed to be filled and so many people were supportive of it. Other non-partisan groups have been trying to do this for decades. Why does VNP all of a sudden catch on fire? I don’t know, but we did and we succeeded.
The new independent redistricting process has had a few bumps along the way, but Jessica anticipated this. She thinks that the public critiques of the maps and the work of the Commission is an indicator that people are participating in the process.
I knew it was going to be messy. I knew that there were going to be a lot of ups and downs. I knew that there were legal challenges and legal discussions. Honestly, I think that is evidence of the system working and making sure that what we voted for is actually happening. I’m pleased that the maps they settled on are as partisanly equal as possible. I just hope that again the fringes let this happen and see what comes next. I mean it’s brand-new. We’ve never done this before so we need to do it in order to learn from it. We based our system on California and they were really successful and it changed the nature of voting out there. The old system was broken. Hopefully this will fix it, but if not we learn and we take the good parts and learn from the bad parts and make another change if necessary.
One of the good parts that Jessica highlighted is the broad participation from Michiganders from across the state.
We got inputs from all sides. We’ve got Republicans, Dems and Independents and they went across the state and gathered information from people and experts. I believe that they truly listened to what people were saying and did the best they could to incorporate those things to come to the best maps possible.
Jessica believes that it is hard to be the first at anything. The next Commission will gain not only lessons from the critiques and evaluation of the inaugural Commission, but an internal infrastructure of policies and procedures that will likely make the next process smoother.
The lessons from Michigan’s inaugural independent redistricting cycle benefit more than just the next Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, but also grassroots organizations like VNP across the country who want to pass redistricting reform in their states. Jessica’s advice to those groups: keep the issue nonpartisan and your goals attainable.
The biggest advice is to underline that this is a nonpartisan issue, not a bipartisan issue. It is important for all Americans to have their voices heard. When we were first going out to campaign for Prop 2, the first words out of my mouth whenever I talked to anybody was ‘I’m a volunteer with Voters Not Politicians, a non-partisan group.’ That really got people to listen and to trust more. It’s really important to underline that and help us all again understand that we all want the same thing when it comes to elections and voting rights. The other thing I would say is choose attainable goals for yourself, incremental goals, because it is such a huge thing that is so ingrained in our democracy that we need to make the small changes and eventually all those small changes lead to big changes.