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Congressional map adopted by Michigan panel gives Democrats 7-6 edge

Jan. 4, 2022: Battle brewing among Michigan Democrats over new political maps
Jan. 3, 2022: Michigan Black lawmakers to sue redistricting commission over new maps

In a historic vote, the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission on Tuesday adopted its first congressional map, which will last 10 years.

The map — known as “Chestnut” — eliminates the state’s two majority-Black congressional districts. Doing so may trigger a lawsuit, but supporters say the maps replace ones that had “packed” African-American voters into districts and diluted their political clout.

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If voting patterns from the 2020 election hold, the map would favor Democrats in seven districts and Republicans in six. The delegation is now split 7-7, and next year, the state's representation falls from 14 to 13 due to sluggish population growth over the last decade.

Commissioner Doug Clark, a Republican, said the new map is more competitive.

“It had more swing districts, and depending who the candidates are, it could go either Republican or Democrat,” Clark said. 

New U.S. House 'Chestnut' map

The state's redistricting commission adopted a new U.S. House map on Tuesday that could give Democrats a 7-6 advantage if recent election results are a guide, including one in typically Republican west Michigan. The new map has four districts in which two incumbents currently live, and three districts where none live, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis.

Note: Green districts have no current incumbent, orange have one and purple have two. Black circles represent homes of current members of Congress.

Source: Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, Bridge Michigan analysis

The new map creates three open seats and a handful where incumbents would have to face each other or run in different districts.

  • The 12th District that goes from Dearborn to north of Southfield, is now home to both Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn.
  • The 8th District, which includes Flint, Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City, is now home to Reps. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, and John Moolenaar, R-Midland. 
  • The 4th District, which includes Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Holland will have Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland.
  • The 9th District, which includes most of the Thumb, will have Reps. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, and Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township as incumbents.

Three districts, which includes Ann Arbor, Lansing and west Michigan, are open and have no incumbent, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis. 

Eight of 13 commissioners — Richard Weiss (independent), Dustin Witjes (Democrat), Doug Clark (Republican), Anthony Eid (independent), Brittni Kellom (Democrat), Steve Lett (independent), Cynthia Orton (Republican), and Janice Vallette (independent) — voted for the map. 

Eid said the map did a better job at incorporating communities of interest — like-minded voters — especially Black voters in Detroit. 

While the Chestnut map includes districts with a higher Black voting age population than other proposals, it has no districts in which Black voters comprise over 51 percent of the population.

The panel has followed the advice of its voting rights attorney and partisan fairness experts, who have said Black voters in Detroit can still elect their candidate of choice without having an overwhelming majority.

Jonathan Kinloch, a Wayne County commissioner who is chair of the Democratic Party's 13th Congressional District Committee, told Bridge Michigan the Chestnut map is not perfect, but better than the other options for Detroiters.

“The Chestnut map was one that … at least I've heard the most favorable comments about,” Kinloch told Bridge Michigan after the vote. “It has a lesser stain to it.”

Earlier Tuesday, Kinloch had issued a media statement warning that the 13th Congressional Committee had retained a lawyer and was prepared to sue because of concerns about minority representation.

Tuesday’s vote was historic. 

For decades, the party in power in the Michigan Legislature was in charge of drawing political boundaries. Those maps gave Republicans a disproportionate advantage despite sometimes receiving fewer statewide votes than Democrats. 

But in 2018, 61 percent of Michigan voters supported the constitutional amendment that created the 13-member panel. This is the first time the commissioners drew lines.

For months, commissioners have had to learn how to use mapping softwares, and about new communities who advocated for them to be kept together. 

Commissioner Rebecca Szetela, an independent who serves as chair of the commission, expressed concerns over the adopted congressional map.

She said the map had a “big weakness” in how it incorporated communities of interest. 

Regardless, the commission is more than likely to get sued over the new maps.

By 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, the commission was still in the process of voting for the state legislative maps. 

Kinloch warned the commission of potential lawsuits if the panel doesn’t make changes to the proposed state legislative maps. 

“There's none of those maps that I'm content with, that I can live with,” Kinloch said. “So, without edits, I absolutely know that the 13th Congressional District — we will be moving forward with the lawsuit.”

— Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed

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