Analysis: Redistricting maps give GOP fighting chance, boost Detroit’s clout
- Bridge Michigan analysis finds draft political maps under consideration could give Detroit more Black-majority districts
- Some proposals could make the state House more competitive, potentially threatening the Democratic majority
- Much could still change as redistricting commission continues court-ordered redraw of metro Detroit political districts
Redrawn Michigan legislative districts under consideration by a citizens panel could increase the number of Detroiters in the Legislature, but potentially jeopardize Democratic control of the House, a Bridge Michigan analysis has found.
Following a federal court order to redraw 13 House and Senate districts, Michigan’s independent citizens redistricting commission is revising the boundaries that helped give Democrats unified control of state government — the House, Senate and governor’s office — in 40 years.
The panel is now considering six new House map configurations aimed at fixing seven maps thrown out by the court.
A Bridge analysis of recent voting trends found that the modified districts all still lean Democratic, but some by significantly smaller margins — and at least one proposed new district could be a tossup with Republicans.
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Democrats won a 56-54 edge in the House in 2022, so losing one seat could affect control of the chamber.
Jamie Roe, a Republican consultant from Macomb County, said the proposed maps “hurt (Democrats) worse.”
“It makes their job of keeping the majority harder,” said Roe, who helped draw legislative maps for Republicans in 2011, when districts were still decided by politicians.
The latest maps are the result of a lawsuit from Detroit voters, who contended the old districts diluted their vote by extending from the city far into suburbs.
The proposed drafts remedy that by generally clustering districts in the city, creating the possibility of more African-American representation in the Legislature, which fell to 17 total in 2022 from 20 in 2020.
Under the old maps, just one metro Detroit district had more than 60% African-American voters. Under the proposed maps, districts would have as many as 96% African-American residents.
Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a Democratic former state representative from Detroit, said protecting the voting power of African-American residents is of paramount importance, regardless of possible impacts on the Legislature.
“Any time we start trying to engineer seats just to have a majority, we have all failed, regardless of what side of the aisle we hail from,” said Gay-Dagnogo, who serves as a spokesperson for Detroit voters whose lawsuit prompted the redraw.
The court set a March 29 deadline for new House maps, so much could change with configurations before then.
Here’s a look at how they are different, and what that means for voters in southeast Michigan.
Democratic seat becomes tossup
The House is now temporarily knotted, 54-54, because two Democratic lawmakers were elected mayor of their hometowns last year.
One of those lawmakers is current Warren Mayor Lori Stone, who handily won election to the 13th House District in 2022, 67%-33%.
The district now stretches from Macomb County and went deep into Detroit’s east side and leaned Democratic 63%-37%, based on 2020 presidential election results.
Five of the six revised maps put the district now entirely in Macomb County, which voted for former President Donald Trump in 2016 and 2022, and jettisons Detroit, which is considered one of the most diehard Democratic cities in the nation.
One configuration of the new maps trims the Democratic lean of the district 51%-48%, essentially a tossup.
Jon Eguia, a professor of economics and political science at Michigan State University who has monitored redistricting, said some of the map options could result in a competitive seat that “will go Republican in an election where Republicans do very well.”
But he concluded the draft maps currently before the commission don’t amount to a “Machiavellian” redraw that favors one party.
Overall, he said, the remapping process has resulted in a “more normal” redistricting debate around where boundaries should fall, as opposed to cutting Detroit up based on racial demographics.
“I don't think this is much of a partisan battle,” he said. “The districts to be redrawn are Democratic, pretty much.”
Better odds for Detroiters?
The proposed new districts also could increase the number of Detroit lawmakers in the Legislature.
The city’s representation fell to six House members in 2022 from seven, in part because districts leaned Democratic and stretched from the predominantly African-American city deep into the white suburbs.
The 5th House District, for instance, runs 12.5 miles from wealthy Birmingham in Oakland County to the Hubbell-Lyndon neighborhood on Detroit’s west side.
At its narrowest point, the district is a half-mile wide, and consists of 59% Black voters and 39% white ones. Former Berkley City Council member Natalie Price won the heavily Democratic district in 2022 after besting four candidates — two of whom are Detroiters — in the primary.
Under new configurations, the district would be far more compact. While some versions have it extending into Oakland County, others have it entirely within Detroit and predominantly African-American: As much as 96% of voters in one map.
The changes would also be profound for constituents of Democratic Reps. Helena Scott of Detroit and Mike McFall of Hazel Park.
Scott represents the 7th District, which is now 50% white and 47% Black. McFall’s 8th District is evenly split: 48.5% white and 48.4% Black.
But the districts would trade sections of Detroit for the suburbs under one map, keeping Scott’s district entirely south of the Detroit border on Eight Mile Road and McFall’s district in Oakland County.
Racially, the change would be profound: the 7th District in Oakland County would be 86% white and just under 10% Black; the 8th, in Detroit, would be 81% Black and 17% white.
Politically, both remain solidly Democratic. The 7th District would have a 67%-32% Democratic lean, down from 82%-17% with the current maps. The 8th District would go from 75%-14% to an overwhelming 95%-4%.
Roe said some of the proposed new maps, which are more compact and keep districts in Detroit and while others connect suburbs like St. Clair Shores and the Grosse Pointes, are better than the “spaghetti strands” that the commission approved in 2021.
“It definitely makes it more fair,” he said. “I think the people of Michigan win.”
Timeline for redrawing state House maps
A federal three-judge panel in December ordered the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to redraw 13 House and Senate districts in the metro Detroit area.
Here’s the current timeline the court set for completing that process and 2024 election dates.
- Feb. 2: Commission finalizes state House draft maps for public comment
- Feb. 23: Public comment period concludes
- March 1: Commission adopts final House maps, submits to court
- March 8: Plaintiffs file any objections to plan with court
- March 15: Court-appointed expert submits review of the commission’s work
- March 29: Goal to implement new House maps. Judges left open the option of using a plan drawn by a court-appointed expert if they deem the commission’s work insufficient
- April 12: Court reconvenes to determine next steps on redrawing state Senate maps
- April 23: Filing deadline for candidates in new state House districts
- Aug. 6: Michigan primary election
- Nov. 5: Michigan general election
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