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New districts give Democrats chance to flip Michigan Legislature

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

Democrats could have the best chance to flip the Michigan Legislature in decades under new legislative districts approved Tuesday by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Republicans have controlled the state Senate since the early 1980s and now have a 22-16 advantage in the chamber, but Democrats would have an edge in 20 districts under the “Linden” map approved by the citizens panel, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis.

Related:

The 13-member redistricting group also approved the “Hickory” map for the state House that gives an advantage to Democrats in 57 of 110 seats, according to the group's analysis. Currently, Republicans hold a 55-52 advantage and have led the chamber for more than a decade.

Combined with new U.S. House districts approved Tuesday that give a 7-6 edge to Democrats, the party emerged as a possible winner in the redistricting process in a state that is politically split.

But the maps have also drawn concern and lawsuit threats from Black Democrats for reducing the number of majority-minority districts.

There are now 17 majority-Black districts, but that number would fall to seven with the new maps (seven in the House, none in the state Senate.)

“There will no doubt be lawsuits filed and reforms later needed to ensure our democracy works for everyone,” Bob Allison, the deputy director of the environmental nonprofit Michigan League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement after the vote.

Here’s a look at the new districts and what they mean in the state Legislature. (See the accompanying story for a similar breakdown in Congress)

Michigan Senate

This map has 14 open seats — six because of term limits — and four districts in which current incumbents face each other. 

In the 8th Senate District in Oakland and Wayne counties, incumbents Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills, and Marshall Bullock, D-Detroit, could face each other. 

The redistricting commission had considered several maps, and Democratic Commissioner Dustin Witjes, a Democrat, said “Linden” is the one that “the public has been saying is the best.”

New Michigan Senate 'Linden’ map

The redistricting commission adopted its ‘Linden’ Senate map which leans 21-17 Democrat, based on recent election results, a stark difference from the Senate’s current 22-16 Republican majority (two seats are vacant).

Note: Light green districts have no current incumbent; dark green is open because current senator is term-limited; orange have one and purple have two. Black circles represent homes of current members of Senate and red circles are the homes of House Representatives who are term-limited from running for the House again.

Source: Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, Bridge Michigan analysis

The map does not have any district with a Black voting age population over 47 percent. 

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 candidates of choice without having an overwhelming majority.

However, a report made by Lisa Handley, the commission’s partisan fairness expert, said districts with 47 percent of Black voters might not be able to elect Black candidates.

This has drawn objections from Black leaders in southeast Michigan and Flint who said the maps could further disenfranchise Black voters.

Brittni Kellom, a Democrat, voted for a separate map that she helped draft, saying it better represented Detroiters. Her map would have created three majority-Black districts.

“I think if we were going to have the best foot forward to show that we were listening … (and) really, really doing a good job to honor the city of Detroit … I think that map does the best job,” Kellom said. 

Democrats win in House maps

The state House map, meanwhile, is more of a tossup.

According to the redistricting commission, the “Hickory” map favors Democrats in 57 seats, while 53 districts would go Republican if voting patterns from recent elections continue.

Bridge Michigan's analysis, based on more narrow election results, shows the map leans slightly Republican, 56-54.

New Michigan House 'Hickory’ map

The citizens commission also adopted its ‘Hickory’ map for the state House, which leans 56-54 Republican, based on recent presidential election results. Republicans now have an advantage in 58 of 110 districts.

Note: Light green districts have no current incumbent; dark green is open because current senator is term-limited; orange have one and purple have two. Black circles represent homes of current members of House who are eligible to run again.

Source: Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, Bridge Michigan analysis

The Hickory map has 47 open seats — 24 because of term limits and 10 districts in which current incumbents could face each other.

For example, in the 45th House District that includes parts of Battle Creek and Marshall, Republican incumbent Reps. Sarah Lightner and Matt Hall would face each other.

In the 74th House District, which includes part of Lansing and Holt, Democratic Rep.s Sarah Anthony and Kara Hope would go against each other, unless one decides to move.  

Historic vote

Tuesday’s approval of maps is the culmination of a years-long fight against gerrymandering in Michigan.

Up until 2018, the party in power in the Michigan Legislature was in charge of drawing political boundaries after the decennial census. The process helped allow Republicans maintain a grip on power in Lansing for decades through districts that skewed heavily toward the GOP.

In 2019, a federal court declared Michigan’s legislative boundaries “a gerrymander of historical proportions.”

Three years ago, 61 percent of Michigan voters supported the constitutional amendment that created the 13-member redistricting commission to take over the process from lawmakers.

The panel was composed of citizens who applied to serve on the panel, which has worked for months on the maps.

Nancy Wang, the executive director of Voters Not Politicians, the group behind the creation of the commission, said in a statement the panel “carried out the will of the 2.5 million Michiganders who voted to end gerrymandering and put political power back in the hands of voters — not politicians.

“This shows that Michiganders can come together across party lines to defend democracy – an important lesson for our nation and a reason to celebrate."

— Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed

 

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