Opinion | Michigan’s redistricting group must keep putting fairness first
In 2021, the 13 everyday citizens who comprise the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission drew and approved the fairest legislative maps we the voters have had in 40 years. It was a remarkable feat.
In the process, they followed some bad advice from their consultants that damaged the ability of Black voters in Detroit to elect Black representatives. Federal judges have ordered changes. It is essential that the commission restores the political will of Black voters without reinstating the partisan bias that has infected Michigan politics and policy for decades.
Ending gerrymandering was the whole point when the nonpartisan grassroots group Voters Not Politicians launched the drive to etch political fairness into our Constitution. The political maps of the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s guaranteed Republican control of the state Senate no matter what. When Republican governors like John Engler and Rick Snyder were elected, Republicans advanced their agendas. When Democrats Jennifer Granholm and Gretchen Whitmer (in her first term) were governor, they were largely stymied. 2023 marked the first time since 1983 when a Democratic governor had a Democratic Legislature to work with.
That’s not how strong democracies work. The party that wins the most votes should typically win the most seats in the state House and Senate. We the voters should decide which party governs.
Federal judges ruled in December that 13 state House and state Senate districts were improperly drawn. They have given the commission just a few weeks to redraw House districts in and around Detroit. The judges will either accept maps the commission comes up with public input, or impose maps drawn by a special master with no such input.
Distressingly, there is a political effort underway to undermine the commission and its work by nitpicking and demonizing members to create a false narrative about commissioners’ character and competence. Critics harangue about two commissioners (one Republican and one Democrat) who, long after 2021 maps were finalized, stayed on the commission despite moving out of state. They have been replaced.
Allegations against another member have been denied and remain unproven. Efforts to raise commissioners’ salaries are disappointing but not disqualifying.
Back in 2021, I followed the redistricting process closely. I offered public comment and watched proceedings online. I studied analyses of the maps’ fairness and advocated for the ones with the least bias.
The process was imperfect. The work was hampered by a pandemic, delayed Census data, tight deadlines, and bad advice. But it is absolutely clear to me that no commissioner intended to marginalize Black voters.
I am confident that commissioners can fix those problems. As they do, it is essential they preserve or improve statewide fairness (the maps lean Republican, but less than previous ones), or the entire campaign to end gerrymandering is for naught.
I recommend that the commission:
Consider statewide fairness at every step: In 2021, the commission intentionally delayed looking at partisan statewide fairness until the entire Michigan map was completed. That made the final maps less fair than they could have been.
Seriously consider maps others propose: In the 2021 redistricting process, the commission urged the public to submit maps. The most comprehensive maps – including ones that would have avoided the harm to Black voters – were never seriously considered. If someone has a good solution for the metro Detroit boundaries, the commission should approve it or improve on it, unless they can produce something that is objectively better.
Come to the work with a collaborative spirit: The commission was, with few exceptions, a model of collaboration when it drew the original maps. Every commissioner has a responsibility to do the same as they take on this task critical to Michigan’s future.
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