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Redistricting commission begins new phase, bill preventing closed meetings introduced

Michigan Citizens Redistricting Commission
Michigan Citizens Redistricting Commission

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is almost to the finish line.

After an upcoming public comment period, the commission will meet in late December to choose the state’s next state Senate, House, and Congressional district lines from 15 published maps.

Board spokesperson Edward Woods III said public input is still vital despite maps already being drawn.

“There’s no assumption that we’re not going to change. We’re going to have to weigh it just like we receive every other comment to see whether or not any of the plans have what’s suggested incorporated,” Woods III said.

These next meetings are scheduled for Nov. 18, Dec. 2, 16, and 30. They mark a near end to a months-long process that saw the commission face criticism for its interpretation of federal voting laws and the constitutional amendment that created it.

A bill to clarify parts of the Open Meetings Act as a direct response to the MICRC was introduced in the state Senate Wednesday.

The commission went behind closed doors last month to discuss advice from its general counsel.

State Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Waucedah Township) said his bill would prevent that in the future.

“It’s clearly not constitutional to my reading and shouldn’t have been done. And if they’re willing to flaunt that provision there and take what I think is very questionable legal advice, one has to wonder what other potential violations might be happening to transparency,” McBroom said.

McBroom said he plans to take up the bill in the Senate Oversight Committee as soon as lawmakers return from break.

He and Democratic colleague state Sen. Jeff Irwin (Ann Arbor) have also sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office asking whether the closed-door meeting was constitutional.

Commissioner Rebecca Szetela is defending the decision.

“It’s not something we make it a habit of because we generally want to stay open and transparent but there are times where, as a commission, we do need to seek advice from our attorneys and have it in a meeting where we can discuss it all in the same room,” Szetela said.

Her fellow commissioner, M.C. Rothhorn is echoing those sentiments.

“We best made the decision we had with the information. We needed information that our attorneys potentially said, ‘You don’t want to risk having this in an open meeting. There’s a privilege you can enjoy. Take it.’ We did,” Rothhorn said.

Despite criticism, some groups are expressing overall pleasure with the commission’s work navigating a complicated process in this way for the first time in state history.

Nancy Wang is executive director of the group Voters Not Politicians, one of the main drivers behind the 2018 constitutional amendment that created the MICRC. She said debate over the group’s controversial decisions is healthy.

“But, in the middle of it, it’s almost hard to kind of get perspective and to see that this is really revolutionary for our state. It’s really serving, I hope, as a model for everyone in other states to show that this is what citizen-driven redistricting looks like,” Wang said.

The MICRC-created maps are scheduled to become law 60 days after they adopt a final version for each the House, Senate and Congress in late December.

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