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Commission approves Senate maps that favor Michigan Democrats

‘The era of the Republican gerrymander is over,’ a leading Democrat declared after a citizen redistricting group approved Senate redistricting maps.

Nov. 4: Michigan redistricting commission relents, creates majority-Black maps for House

Michigan Democrats haven’t controlled the state Senate since the early 1980s, but would have a far better chance of taking control if new district boundaries approved Monday are ultimately adopted.

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission on Monday supported the so-called “Cherry” map that would lean Democratic based on recent election results.

The commission voted 11-2 in favor of the map, with one Democrat and one Republican opposing.

Redistricting commission backs Senate map

After months of meetings and debate, the Michigan Citizens Independent Redistricting has supported a new map for the state’s 38 senate districts. It could give Democrats a better chance of sharing power in Lansing.

Source: Bridge Michigan analysis of 2020 election data based on maps provided by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Now begins a 45-day public comment period that will precede another commission vote. At least two members of each party on the panel must agree for the districts to become final.


The commission is composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five unaffiliated voters.

The commission wants all legislative maps, including those for the state house and U.S. Congress, approved by the end of the year. They would first be used in the 2022 elections.

The leading Democrat in the Senate, Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, signaled his tentative approval. 

Before that, the party in control in Lansing drew the districts every 10 years, a process that heavily favored Republicans.

“This map ensures that for the first time in 40 years, we will put gavels in the hands of Democratic senators and the Michigan Senate will focus on all Michiganders for the first time in a generation,” he said in a statement. 

“The era of the Republican gerrymander is over.”


Through a spokesperson, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, declined comment.

The commission’s map makers have said the districts lean 20-18 Democratic if compared using the 2020 Presidential election — and 25-13 based on the 2018 governor’s race that put Gretchen Whitmer in office.

A Bridge Michigan analysis of 2020 election data shows a 19-19 split.

But either is a major swing toward Democrats and away from Republicans, who currently hold a 20-16 majority in the state Senate, with two vacancies in Republican-heavy districts. 

After the last redraw of the legislative map, Republicans won 27 of the 38 seats in 2014 despite Senate Republican candidates getting just 44,503 more votes than Democratic candidates out of more than 3 million votes statewide.

Democrats howled that those maps — drawn by Republican consultants — packed Democrats into some districts, making it easier for Republicans to win other districts by narrower margins. 

Democrats challenged the districts in federal court and in 2019, a three-judge panel agreed the maps were illegal and ordered that they be redrawn.

It was a short-lived victory: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled just months later that no court could order new maps, saying only Congress and states have that power.

Those court rulings came less than a year after Michigan voters in 2018 approved a constitutional amendment that created the 13-member bipartisan panel to approve districts after the decennial census.

With Monday’s preliminary approval, the commission now has put a target on one of three Senate maps they were considering, all of which had drawn scorn from African-Americans who feel not enough attention to ensure majority-Black districts. 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensures minority voters aren’t discriminated against in voting.

The redistricting commission has leaned on the advice of attorney Bruce Adelson, who said the districts adhere to federal law. He has argued that previous districts, drawn by partisans, diluted the power of minorities by “packing” them in racially gerrymandered districts.

Under the “Cherry” map — all maps were given names of trees — no district would have an African-American majority. Four districts would have from 43 percent to 47 percent African American population, and between 40 and 46 percent African Americans of voting age.

In 2011, the GOP’s map makers abided by a state-approved framework to keep districts within county boundaries. That meant the Detroit Senate districts were mostly in Detroit or touched other Wayne County suburbs.

The commission, however, is not bound to that framework and all of the Cherry map districts that are in Detroit also extend into western Wayne County or up into Oakland and Macomb counties.

They remain solidly Democratic but are not majority African American.

The commission has also made partisan fairness a major goal. The Cherry map puts Democrats on a more even footing statewide. For instance, while there’s currently one Democratic senator from Kent County, the Cherry map could produce two, flipping a Republican district.

There are currently just four Democratic senators outside of metro Detroit, one each in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing and its suburbs and Flint. 

The Cherry map, if past election results held, could produce seven — two in the Lansing area, two in Grand Rapids and its suburbs, and one in Kalamazoo, Flint and the district that would span Midland, Saginaw and Bay City.

Part of that shift is driven by population changes: Detroit lost 74,000 and Kent County and Ottawa County had the biggest gains in population.

In 2014, the existing Senate maps had an efficiency gap — a measure of how skewed toward one party or another — of 22.8 percent in favor of Republicans, by far the worst of all Michigan maps and well above the 7 percent that a Chicago law professor believed was the threshold for gerrymandering.

According to the Associated Press, the Cherry map would have an efficiency gap of just over 3 percent, well below the 7 percent proposed by Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at Harvard University.

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