Applications open for new Michigan redistricting commission. What to know.

Benson

LANSING -- The process to seat the 13-member Michigan commission responsible for redrawing the state’s voting district lines has officially begun. 

Michiganders who are registered voters can apply to be on the commission from now until the end of May 2020, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Thursday. 

“This is a historic moment for our democracy here in Michigan,” Benson said at a press conference Thursday. “In order to ensure this process is truly citizen-led, citizens must lead it and be involved in it.”

The new redistricting commission, written into the state Constitution following a successful 2018 ballot initiative, will have four members of each major political party (Republicans and Democrats) and five members unaffiliated with either. The selected commissioners will be required to solicit public input and can hire consultants to help them draw state and Congressional voting district lines that would be used for the first time in the 2022 elections. 

The system replaces the one Michigan and many other states have used in the past, in which the party in power in the state Legislature draws the lines, which for the last two redistricting cycles has been Republicans. 

Michigan’s political lines have been found by experts to be among the most gerrymandered in the nation and were on a path to be redrawn this year. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision essentially found that determining the fairness of state political districts is not in the purview of federal courts

The newly formed state commission will craft political boundaries beginning with the 2022 election cycle. 

The commission is still about a year from beginning its work of drawing state and congressional lines in Michigan. But Thursday’s announcement marks the first step in making the commission — once just a dream of a handful of political novices — a reality. 

Here’s what you need to know: 

Who is eligible to apply? 

All Michigan residents who are registered voters are eligible to apply, except someone who in the last six years has been: 

  • A partisan candidate or elected official in local, state or federal government
  • An officer in a political party
  • A consultant or employee for a political candidate, campaign or PAC
  • A legislative staffer
  • A registered lobbyist or an employee of one
  • An unclassified state employee, except those who work for public universities, the courts or the armed forces
  • The parent, child or spouse of any of the above people, including stepparents and children

These exclusions are the basis of one of two ongoing lawsuits against the commission, which argues that they are overly restrictive and unfairly exclude people based on their profession or relationship to those people.

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, the group that was behind the 2018 ballot initiative, said the exclusions were included to ensure people who have had some influence in gerrymandering maps in the past (or would have a substantial political interest in doing so) are removed from the process. It excludes “the people that depend on those people, too, for their livelihood,” Wang said. 

“Those are the people that are taken out of the system because they compromise the integrity of an independent commission.”

How can I apply?

Eligible registered Michigan voters can fill out an application online. To complete the application, however, they must print out the application and get it notarized (as required by the proposal’s constitutional language). They must then submit it to the Secretary of State’s office in person or by mail. 

All Secretary of State branch offices will offer free notarization of commission applications by December 1, Benson said Thursday. That way, applicants can get their forms notarized and submit it in one visit to a branch office.  

Applicants can get their forms notarized wherever they like. Several local clerks and city governments have also offered free notary service — you can find locations for free notaries in your county here

Benson’s office will also hold workshops around the state, where people can come in, fill out an application, get their application notarized and turn it in in one visit. 

The Secretary of State’s office is also required to send at least 10,000 applications to random registered voters around the state before 2020 to encourage broad participation in applying for the commission. Benson said Thursday her office plans to send out more than the minimally required amount. 

Are commissioners paid? 

Commissioners are required, per the state constitution, to be paid at least 25 percent of the Governor’s salary. For 2019, that would be $39,825.

The job would last from October 2020 to at least November 2021, when the final maps are due. The Secretary of State’s office says time commitments would vary by the week, but that commissioners would be responsible for setting meeting dates and “other time commitments within those parameters.” The Secretary of State doesn’t specify whether it would be a full time job, but California, which has had a redistricting commission for years, tells applicants it is close to a full-time commitment.

There wouldn’t be an official end date to the commission’s work. Per the constitution, a commissioners job ends “once the commission has completed its obligations for a census cycle but not before any judicial review of the redistricting plan is complete.” That means if there are lawsuits challenging the maps they draw, commissioners would likely need to stick around to help defend them. 

How are commissioners selected?

There must be at least 30 Democrats, 30 Republicans and 40 independents who have applied to the commission before the process of choosing them begins. Benson said Thursday that in the first hour of the application being open, 100 people started applications, so meeting that application threshold may not be a problem. But if it is, Benson is required to continue to randomly mail out applications until the quota is filled. 

Then the Secretary of State’s office will randomly select from the applicant pool 60 Democrats, 60 Republicans and 80 independents using statistical methods to “mirror the geographic and demographic makeup of the state.” 

State House and Senate Democratic and Republican leadership will review the applications and be allowed to collectively strike 20 applications from the pool of 200. The Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority Leader and the Senate Minority Leader could each choose five people they’d like to strike from the pool — this is intended as a safeguard against partisan actors, organizers have said. 

Then the Secretary of State would randomly choose four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents from the remaining 180 applications; the 13 that would serve as the commission.

What happens next?

The applications will remain open until June 1, 2020. The pool of 200 will be drawn by July, and the legislative leaders will strike their least favorite applicants by August. The final commission will be selected by September and they’ll start their work by October 15, 2020. 

They’ll use census data and public input to draw maps over the course of the next year, which will be finalized by November 2021 to be used in the 2022 elections. 

Two pending lawsuits brought by Michigan Republicans argue the commission is unconstitutional and should be shut down; they have since been consolidated into one. If the court sides with them, the commission could be killed. 

But Benson and Voters Not Politicians say they are confident the commission will survive the legal scrutiny. Benson said Thursday that she’s not concerned about moving forward with the process of seating the commission — which she’s required by the constitution to do, regardless of the uncertainty. 

“I believe that we're solid in our legal grounding and I believe that our responsibility is to further the will of the people that was very clear when they spoke last November to amend our constitution,” she said.

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Comments

Kevin Grand
Fri, 10/25/2019 - 7:17am

And right about now in the hidden sub-basement of the MDP HQ, prospective "independents" are all busy scrubbing their social media histories before submitting their notarized applications...

Arjay
Fri, 10/25/2019 - 9:00am

So the commission is supposed to be non-partisan, but who decides how non-partisan each applicant for the independent side is, or even if the party members are really who they say they are. Given the make up of VNP, and the current leanings of the SOS, I’d say this is just one big grab by the Dems to gerrymander it the other way.

David Waymire
Fri, 10/25/2019 - 9:26am

I guess you like the job better when it done by politicians for their own good, in the dark, with no citizen input? The reality is any decision will require two members of each group of lawmakers -- GOP, Dem and Independent -- before the decision can go forward. That will require more bipartisanship than we have seen in Lansing in 20 years, and lead to districts that will finally represent our entire state. As you know, in the 2018 elections, State House Dem candidates received a total of 2,092,164 votes in the 2018 midterm. Republicans received 1,917,150 votes — an advantage of about 175,000 for Democratic candidates. But Republicans will hold a 58-52 majority in the State House during the next term.
In the State Senate, Democrats received 2,062,494 votes while Republicans received 1,945,209 — an advantage of about 117,300 for Dems. GOP will hold a 22-16 majority next term.
That's clearly unfair and a result of the last partisan redistricting. And it would be just as bad if the Democrats had done it.

Arjay
Fri, 10/25/2019 - 1:07pm

David Waymire, you missed the point of my letter completely. Who will say whether a Republican is really a Republican, an Independent is really an Independent, or a Democrat is really a Democrat.

And vote totals mean nothing. Michigan is comprised of many small rural areas and a few large metropolitan areas., exactly the same as is the whole US. It is the reason the founding fathers developed the concept of the electoral college. Now Michigan does not have an electoral system in place, but unless you want to split small cities into two districts, you will always have a mismatch of votes and winners.

And finally, no I do not think some politicians have the smarts to understand the difference between daytime and nighttime, and they are probably the same as the citizens. But our system of democracy insists that all are equal, both all politicians and all voters. The difference is we know who the politicians are.

Kris
Mon, 10/28/2019 - 11:00am

Doesn't the census help decide the size of the district?

Mike In TC
Fri, 10/25/2019 - 11:00am

The primary flaw in a well-intentioned ballot proposal is now clear. Any one who has knowledge of the subject is precluded from participating....and so are their relatives. Any chance the SOS will have an easy time guiding deliberations? The results are predictable.

middle of the mit
Sat, 10/26/2019 - 10:45pm

The conservatives on this board are diligently trying to do what conservatives always do. What is that? Dilute public opinion and gaslight their own.

Why do they not want the PUBLIC to have a say in how they are governed?

Because they want the hinterlands to judge everything. Why?

Because they vote for them. Why? I still don't understand. The rest of America that is the hinterlands is well beyond sharing ANY part of what the wealthy conservatives have or their businesses. In fact, Duane and Sonny Perdue tell us that the strong get stronger and the weak fail. Who do think the weak in that situation are? That is why most of the road funding would go down state where Duane and Kevin and Arjay and Matt live.

Profits over people. But is it? Most of the people live down there. That is why they believe that we up here in the hinterlands can deal with less.

It really does boil down to a bizznizz solution. That is why people less than a 1/4 mile from me on the road I use to get to my house don't have cable.

When are you conservatives going to accept reality?

Keep allowing the districts to be run by conservatives instead of the voters.

Who do you think pushed Rural Electrification and telephoney act?

One hint,

FDR

And if the hinterlands didn't want Government help or the peoples? They are still waiting for natural gas, cable and now internet.

Keep on keepin' on!

And NO, I am not saying that conservatives shouldn't have a say on the board. They will have just as much a say as the dems. They are just complaining about the independents. Because they are not conservatives. That is the conservative playbook.

We are victims!! Because we don't get our way!!