SOS Benson, Prop. 2 advocate weigh in on independent redistricting commission’s progress
The state is moving forward with preparations for redistricting following the passage of Proposal 2 in 2018. The ballot initiative established the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is tasked with redrawing Michigan’s congressional districts based on the 2020 census. Thirteen people—none of whom are political officeholders—were randomly chosen for the commission, which will be overseen by Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s office.
“This is truly some well-intentioned individuals, all understanding and really committed to the goals of the voters who created the citizens commission to begin with, making sure it’s independent, citizen-led, transparent,” Benson told Stateside. “I’m very optimistic now, having connected with and identified these thirteen individuals, that they’re up to the task.”
The commissioners will be meeting with national and state experts on redistricting as they draw up their plans, which will be used starting in the November 2022 election cycle. The COVID-19 pandemic has required some changes to the actual process of redrawing district lines, though. While Benson says she isn’t too worried about remote meetings affecting the speed of the commission’s work, she is concerned about the timely release of data from the 2020 census. Census results will have a big influence how the new congressional districts are drawn.
Data collection for the census was initially scheduled to end in July, but the deadline was extended to give households more time to respond amid the pandemic. That extension will, in turn, affect when the Citizens Redistricting Commission will receive the data.
“We will be getting the data later than we expected, but the commission will still have to submit their maps by November of next year,” Benson said. “They won’t have as much time to consider maps, look at the data, because you can’t really draw a district map until you know the number of people in the district.”
The Trump administration recently shortened the census data collection timeline by a month. Now, counting needs to be completed by September 30. Some communities are concerned about possible undercounts. In Detroit, for example, the response rate is still only 49.3% as of August 24.
Katie Fahey founded and led Voters Not Politicians, the group that successfully campaigned for the ballot initiative that changed redistricting to the citizen-led model in 2018. She’s since started a new nonprofit called The People, which brings the lessons her team learned from its campaign in Michigan to other states.
“Being a part of that process and also just seeing, I guess, the disdain from a lot of political insiders about a bunch of regular citizens trying to actually have a say and create a new process, it was really eye opening and left me wanting to take the lessons that we learned, the tools that we built, and be able to pay it forward,” Fahey said.
Fahey says that, as conversations regarding a need for systemic change continue on both national and local levels, Citizens Redistricting Commissions serve as an example of how to do things differently.
“A lot of people don’t feel heard. They don’t feel heard from their legislatures, their local government, maybe even their neighbors,” Fahey said. “This process is so different than any other one that we have at the state level of government that I think it offers an opportunity for communities to actually come together and continue to have some of these conversations.”
This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.