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Michigan redistricting panel advances maps to hearing stage

persoon handle ballot to poll worker
Katie Raymond
Michigan Radio
Michigan's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voted Monday to advance multiple draft congressional and legislative maps to public hearings.

Michigan’s redistricting panel on Monday voted to advance multiple draft congressional and legislative maps to public hearings and gave commissioners more time to submit their own plans.

The proposals that received support were collaboratively drawn by the commission of four Democrats, four Republicans and five members who affiliate with neither major party.

They would be fairer to Democrats than heavily gerrymandered lines created by the GOP-controlled Legislature after the 2010 census. They also could provide more opportunities to elect minority candidates, though there is concern that “unpacking” Democratic voters too much may actually result in fewer Black lawmakers being elected.

Commissioners have until Thursday morning to file maps they draw individually. The public will be able to weigh in on those plans and the collaborative drafts at five hearings Oct. 20-26 in Detroit, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Gaylord and Flint.

The panel — created by voters who amended the state constitution — plans to vote Nov. 5 on proposed maps and, following a 45-day comment period, adopt final maps by year’s end. That is two months late due to a pandemic-related delay in census data.

“We’re going to be making changes to these maps,” said M.C. Rothhorn, a Democratic commissioner.

Using a composite of 13 statewide races between 2012 and 2020, the efficiency gap — a formula used to measure partisan fairness — would range between 3.1% and 6.2% pro-GOP in three state Senate plans and between 5.7% and 7.4% pro-GOP in three state House drafts. They are above double digits under the 2011 maps, according to a commission expert. A score near zero is considered politically neutral.

While Michigan voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020, Republicans hold 22-16 and 58-52 legislative majorities. Under the drafts, the Senate could be 20-18 in favor of Democrats or 19-19. The House could be 55-55 or 56-54 Republican or Democratic.

There could be a 7-6 split for Democrats in the U.S. House if it is competitive at the top of the ticket based on the composite score, according to four draft congressional maps. Each would upend the turf of many incumbents, who could face off in primary or general elections unless they retire or run in adjacent districts.

One emerging flash point is compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires that minority voters have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.

Michigan would still have two congressional seats in the Detroit area where minorities are a majority, but they would no longer be majority-Black districts. The panel was advised that Black voters could comprise 40% and still elect a candidate of their choice.

At least one legislator is not happy.

Sen. Adam Hollier, a Detroit Democrat, will hold a news conference Tuesday to push for the commissioners to start over, saying the legislative maps also would create no majority-Black seats.

“They drew districts that are not indicative of Black communities and Detroit,” he said in a statement. “They drew the city of Detroit into districts that Detroiters will not win, and Black people will not win because a majority of the voter base are in suburban communities particularly in primaries where Democratic races are decided.”

But Susan Smith, vice president of the League of Women Voters of Michigan, said there is a misperception about majority-minority districts.

“The lower the percentage of African Americans in any one district that can elected a candidate of their choice, the more seats African Americans will be able to fill. ... It’s doing minorities a disfavor to put more minorities in that district than are needed. That’s really packing and it’s really disenfranchising those people whose votes are not needed in order to elect the candidate of their choice,” she said.

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