Pool of 200 selected for new Michigan commission to end gerrymandering

VNP

Voters Not Politicians was behind the ballot drive that spurred the creation of Michigan’s new redistricting commission. (Bridge file photo)

Michigan officials on Wednesday drew a semifinalist pool of 200 applicants for the state’s first redistricting commission, marking one of the first steps in a new system designed to take the politics out of setting political districts.

The pool was drawn from more than 9,300 who applied to be part of the commission. Democratic and Republican leaders in the Michigan House and Senate will remove up to 20 applicants before another random drawing selects the final 13 members of the commission in August. 

Those commissioners will use the 2020 Census and public input to draw voting district lines that will be used in Michigan until 2030.

In the past, Michigan’s district lines were drawn every 10 years by the majority party in the state Legislature. For the last two redistricting cycles, that was Republicans, and a court ruled last year that Michigan’s lines were illegally gerrymandered.

Voters in 2018 approved a constitutional ballot measure to adopt the independent panel, a move that boosters said would improve the fairness and competitiveness of voting districts. 

Nancy Wang, executive director of the Voters Not Politicians group that spearheaded the ballot measure, said in a statement Wednesday that she is “thrilled” to see the commission begin to take shape. 

Nancy Wang

Nancy Wang, executive director of the Voters Not Politicians group that spearheaded the ballot measure, said in a statement that she is “thrilled” to see the commission begin to take shape.

“The random selection process was a cornerstone of our efforts to prevent politicians from gaming the independent commission,” she said.

The pool of 200 applicants was drawn using a statistically weighted formula, as the state constitution requires, to reflect the demographic and geographic makeup of the state based on Census data.

For example, of the 9,326 people who applied, a disproportionate amount were male, older than 55 and from southeast Michigan (not including Wayne County, which had its own category due to its uniquely high population). The program weighted those categories to make it less likely that any one person with those characteristics would be selected in the random drawing. 

The final pool includes 78 percent of people who identify as white, 13 percent as Black, 4 percent as Hispanic or Latino, 3 percent as Asian, 0.5 percent as Indigenous and 4 percent as two or more races. 

Stephen Blann, a consultant with the Saginaw-based Rehmann firm that drew the pool using a program coded into Microsoft Excel, said “there was a lot of back and forth” in building the formula to determine what’s close enough to the state’s demographics. Blann and the Department of State decided to build a formula that would accept a pool that’s within 5 percent of the state’s demographics for all categories except race, which has a 3 percent requirement so it’s closer to the true makeup. 

The cities with the most members in the pool are Detroit (nine), Grand Rapids (eight), and Rochester Hills, Lansing and Midland (four each). The median age is 51. 

The final redistricting commission, which will include four Republicans, four Democrats and five people who are unaffiliated with either major political party, will not be selected using a weighted method like that used for semifinalists. 

The constitution requires the final draw to be completely random.

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Comments

Arjay
Thu, 06/25/2020 - 1:44pm

So 200 names are in the pool, and from that pool 13 names will be randomly drawn. How will this insure the party makeup of the commission? Or maybe VNP just hopes that no one will question this obvious power grab by the democrats.

Kevin Grand
Fri, 06/26/2020 - 12:05pm

Good luck getting an answer to that nagging question, Arjay.

Not only won't VNP or The Bridge touch that question, they won't even mention or ask how to reconcile what would happen when a democrat is seated on that commission.

This would all collapse like a house of cards if they did.

middle of the mit
Fri, 06/26/2020 - 4:11pm

Did you read just above where it said the final board members would be randomly drawn?

[[[[The final redistricting commission, which will include four Republicans, four Democrats and five people who are unaffiliated with either major political party, will not be selected using a weighted method like that used for semifinalists.

The constitution requires the final draw to be completely random.]]]]

One would think that there would be 3 baskets to choose from. One for Republicans that four would be chosen from, one for Democrats that four would be chosen from and the last one from Independent/unaffiliated that six would be chosen.

How is that a dem power grab?

Arjay
Sun, 06/28/2020 - 6:06am

Yes, one could hope that there would be 3 baskets from which names were drawn from. But the article never said that. It said the 13 finalists would be randomly drawn from the pool of 200 semi-finalists. That and a description of the so called weighting factor leaves a lot of questions that a good journalist would have asked and answered before writing any article. And how about the 5% error factor? Was it too manipulated to favor one party? Too many questions without answers for this process to pass the smell test.

Mich-igander
Sun, 06/28/2020 - 12:08pm

The answers to these questions are in the constitution if you're that curious. But to save you the reading -
The final commission will be made up of 4 republicans, 4 Democrats, and 5 non affiliated voters- which if you read the 200 applicants essays which are available on the sos website are a good mix.

middle of the mit
Mon, 06/29/2020 - 10:24pm

Thank you for pointing out the obvious that Bridge reported that conservatives refuse to accept.

middle of the mit
Wed, 07/01/2020 - 1:13am

{{Yes, one could hope that there would be 3 baskets from which names were drawn from. But the article never said that. It said the 13 finalists would be randomly drawn from the pool of 200 semi-finalists. That and a description of the so called weighting factor}}}}

Arjay, please read carefully. If you scroll to the last paragraph of the article, this is what you will see.

[[[[The final redistricting commission, which will include four Republicans, four Democrats and five people who are unaffiliated with either major political party, will not be selected using a weighted method like that used for semifinalists.

The constitution requires the final draw to be completely random.]]]]

Do you see the part where it says "WILL NOT BE SELECTED USING A WEIGHTED SYSTEM LIKE THAT USED FOR SEMI FINALISTS"?

Everything you just wrote as a reply to what I and the article were saying answers your "fears" if you would only read and not come to your own preconceived notions .

Why won't you accept it?

Lags
Fri, 06/26/2020 - 10:17am

So the gerrymandering power grab is untrue?

Anna
Sun, 06/28/2020 - 9:08am

I hope that Bridge and the rest of Michigan's media start reporting in more detail on the selection process now that the pool of possible commissioners is so much smaller. I am especially interested to find out the background of the 20 people who will be removed from the possible pool by party officials / current legislators, and if any kind of reason for removal is given by anyone involved.

Next, I'm hoping for details on the criteria the commission selects for developing district boundaries. Obviously "approximately equal population" has to be first, and as many "majority minority" Federal congressional districts as the Voting Rights Act requires. But questions of "How big a majority?" and how those minority districts should align with city, county and township boundaries are extremely significant in local politics. I want to know what principles and whose advice the commissioners will use to make their decisions on the borders of districts.
Keeping "communities of interest" together in a district is also a concern of mine. Should Mexicantown in Detroit be split up or deliberately kept together? Same question regarding the Muslim and Christian communities with Middle Eastern heritage centered in Dearborn and the western edge of Detroit. How about the Jewish community cluster in Oakland County, which spreads through several cities? Michigan has several clusters of residents with different Asian heritage as well. There are significant populations of Michiganders with Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Indian/Pakistani heritage, many of them immigrants, but also many children and grandchildren of immigrants. Will the political power of those minority groups be deliberately concentrated into one or a few districts wherever possible? Deliberately split up? Or will the new Commission decode to explicitly ignore differences other than black and white?