LANSING, Mich. – After seven weeks of mapping, Michigan’s new redistricting commission is starting to vote on much-anticipated draft congressional and legislative plans.
The maps, while not final and subject to future revisions, will give early indications of the panel's approach after voters empowered it — and not lawmakers — to draw lines to minimize partisan gerrymandering.
The commission is under a crunch because of an unprecedented four-month-plus delay in census data needed for the once-a-decade redistricting process. Once multiple drafts of congressional and legislative maps are approved in coming days — one state Senate version was passed Friday — the public will be able to give feedback at five hearings. That is down from nine after the panel set aside more time to work on the initial versions.
In early November, the commission of four Democrats, four Republicans and five members who affiliate with neither major party plans to vote on proposed maps and — following a 45-day comment period — adopt final maps by year's end, about two months after the constitutional deadline.
A look at where things stand:
Michigan’s current legislative districts, drawn in 2011 by the GOP-controlled Legislature, are among the most gerrymandered in the country even though the state leans slightly Democratic overall. Democrats, for instance, won more votes statewide in 2018 and 2020, but Republicans hold 58-52 and 22-16 majorities in the House and Senate.
The 2018 constitutional amendment creating the panel says the new maps cannot provide a disproportionate advantage to any political party. The requirement, however, ranks fourth out of seven criteria. Commissioners also must comply with federal law by ensuring that minority voters have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice, and they must draw lines reflecting Michigan’s “diverse population and communities of interest.”
For the Senate and House maps created a decade ago, the “efficiency gap," a formula for measuring partisan fairness, is 10.9% and 11.6% in favor of the GOP under a composite of 13 statewide races between 2012 and 2020. A score near zero is considered politically neutral.
Drafts in circulation would be fairer to Democrats, though potentially still give Republicans an edge.
“The party that wins the most votes should win the most seats,” said Micheal Davis Jr., redistricting campaign director for Promote the Vote, a coalition that includes the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Michigan, Detroit Action and other groups. On Thursday, it submitted Senate and House maps to the commission with efficiency gaps of 0.3% and 2.3%, saying they also would keep communities of interest intact and create more districts with opportunities to elect minority candidates.
Republicans have long opposed the new redistricting process and have said some criteria are too vague.
“Now that this focus on communities of interest hasn’t given them the comfortable Democrat majorities that they so desperately want, they’re panicking and telling the commission to simply ignore the public,” said Tony Daunt, executive director of FAIR Maps.
Michigan is losing a U.S. House seat, leaving it with 13.
The congressional map drawn after the 2010 census provided the GOP with a significant advantage through most of the decade. That edge had diminished by 2018 and 2020, however, when both parties won seven seats.
Under drafts up for possible votes Monday or Tuesday, there could be 7-6 splits either way if it is competitive at the top of the ticket — with one or two toss-up districts depending on what commissioners decide.
The final map will lead to a shakeup in the delegation. Many incumbents could square off in primaries or file to run in a different district to avoid that. Republicans Fred Upton and Bill Huizenga may be drawn together in western Michigan. In metro Detroit, most Democrats including Debbie Dingell, Brenda Lawrence, Andy Levin, Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens could be affected. Republican John Moolenaar and Democrat Dan Kildee may be in the same district, subject to where Midland is drawn.
Until now, panel members have been working on maps collaboratively. But Monday, individual commissioners can propose their own drafts to potentially advance to the public hearings.
Outside observers, while appreciative of the commission's efforts, are anxious to see additional drafts that reflect partisan fairness and comply with the federal Voting Rights Act without breaking up communities of interest.
Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, which organized the ballot drive to overhaul redistricting, told reporters she has “faith in the process” but also wrote to the panel late Wednesday that it “can do much better."
“For the public’s sake, I hope that means you will strive to achieve the levels they show you can meet, rather than settle for something that may or may not be legally defensible,” Wang wrote.
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