To fix maps, Michigan Republicans must please Whitmer and three irked judges

A panel of federal judges Thursday determined that Michigan’s voting district maps drawn in 2011 were illegally gerrymandered to advantage Republicans. The court has ordered legislators to redraw the maps fairly before Aug. 1 and ordered new state Senate elections in 2020.

June 2019: What the U.S. Supreme Court gerrymandering ruling means for Michigan
June 2019: Reaction in Michigan to U.S. Supreme Court gerrymandering decision
May 24, 2019: U.S. Supreme Court halts order requiring Michigan to redraw political lines
Update: Michigan Republicans appeal gerrymandering ruling. What you need to know.​

Talk about performance anxiety.

For the first time since 2011, Michigan legislators must redraw the state’s voting district lines. But unlike eight years ago when Republicans were allowed to draw the lines in relative secrecy, this time they’ve got far tougher critics to impress — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and a trio of federal judges — and just over three months to do it.

The mandate came Thursday afternoon when the judges ruled unanimously that GOP insiders illegally gerrymandered dozens of state and congressional districts throughout Michigan. Under the lawsuit ruling, those 34 districts must hold special elections in 2020 (potentially cutting short some state senators’ final four-year term) with new lines drawn and signed into law by Aug. 1.

Of course, the U.S. Supreme Court could intercede with a decision of its own on state redistricting standards that could render the Michigan ruling moot. The high court is expected to deliver its decision, stemming from cases in two other states, in June.

But absent an adverse ruling from Washington, election experts say Republican lawmakers, who have long controlled Lansing, now face intense scrutiny to devise maps that look radically different if they are going to pass legal muster.

“What we saw in the creation of the maps that were just struck down ... was a redistricting process that was maximized entirely to push the advantage of one party that controlled the whole process,” said Thomas Wolf, a constitutional lawyer specializing in redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan legal center based at New York University.

As Thursday’s 146-page ruling detailed, Republicans drew the 2011 lines to maximize election of their own candidates through a secret process led by political consultants armed with highly specific voting data. Republicans passed the maps through legislative committees and each chamber along partisan lines, with little public transparency. The maps were then approved by a Republican governor, Rick Snyder, leaving Democrats largely out of the process.

“It’s not all in one party’s hands, that’s what’s different now,” said Chris Thomas, the former Michigan Elections Director. There are closer margins between Republicans and Democrats in the legislature and a Democrat in the governor’s office. “So presumably there would be give and take” before the Aug. 1 deadline, he said.

Not only must Michigan lawmakers come up with maps Whitmer will approve, they must share a bevy of information with the court that opens a window into their decision-making process. That includes the names of everyone lawmakers’ “formally or informally” consult over the next three months, and a detailed explanation for how the maps they devise will cure the gerrymandering found in the current maps.

Senate Republicans plan to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and seek a delay in implementing the ruling, said Amber McCann, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey. In the meantime, the Senate will “begin our work to comply with the order.” She said she could not provide Bridge more insight on what that work might look like.

“The court has issued a very comprehensive order,” McCann said. “The details of that are being reviewed by legal staff to see what the next steps would be for the Senate.”

Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield declined comment Friday. Tiffany Brown, spokesperson for Whitmer, said via email, the governor looks forward to playing her part to ensure every vote counts in Michigan.

The Supreme Court could approve Republicans’ request for a stay of the Michigan ruling and eventually decide the fate of the two other partisan gerrymandering cases (from North Carolina and Maryland) in a way that indicates the court doesn’t need to play a role in curbing the practice. If that happens, Michigan Republicans may dodge a bullet and avoid the 2020 Senate elections ordered by the judges.

But given the short time frame and uncertainty over how the Supreme Court may rule, the map-drawing process will probably have to begin now, said John Chamberlin, a political science professor at the University of Michigan.

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, the group that proposed the state’s new redistricting commission that voters approved in November and is still being created, said her organization would be happy to be a resource to legislators as they prepare to draw new lines.

“The redistricting reform amendment provides a roadmap for how to (draw lines fairly) by incorporating public feedback, respecting communities of interest across the state, and operating transparently,” Wang said via email.

Tony Zammit, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, said the party is currently looking to support the promised appeals and reviewing legal options, and will leave the mapmaking “up to the Legislature’s best judgment.”

“They know their districts better than anyone else,” Zammit said.

Rather than reaching out to advocacy groups or nonpartisan advisors, legislators are more likely to rely on the consultants that have long provided political insight, said Chamberlin, the U-M professor.  

“I don’t know if either party would reach out to someone they thought was neutral,” Chamberlin said. “They will, I presume, go to the usual folks they go to on these questions but say, ‘Try to be reasonable this time, and don’t send us any emails about what’s going on.’” Private emails produced during the lawsuit and first reported by Bridge indicated Republicans intentionally drew lines to advantage their party.

Legislators could also consult the mathematicians and social scientists who provided expert testimony to the panel of judges in the federal case, Chamberlin said, such as University of Michigan political science professor Jowei Chen, who was called to testify by plaintiffs in the suit. Chen ran thousands of computer simulations to randomly draw Michigan political boundaries — all of which he determined were less gerrymandered than Michigan’s current maps.

If the Republican-led legislature and Whitmer can’t agree on a plan before the deadline, a “special master” would be chosen to draw the maps instead.

“I don’t think we want that,” said Rep. Christine Greig, the Democratic House Minority Leader, who said she will probably talk with Chatfield and Senate leadership next week about how to move forward and who to seek input from. Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich declined to comment.

Closer margins in the legislature and a Democratic governor means Democrats “will not be shut out of the process this time,” Greig said. “We will be a partner at the table to make sure we have these fair lines.”

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Comments

Al Churchill
Sun, 04/28/2019 - 11:27pm

Prior to last Novembers' election, this writer sent a couple of bucks to Voters-Not Politicians in order to put an end to cynical Republican gerrymandering. A significant majority of Michigan voters agreed with the direction VNP was taking and, hopefully, district maps will now, more accurately, reflect the wishes of the electorate. That being said, when the politicians in Lansing begin drawing up new maps, it is imperative that they involve VNP deeply, deeply in the process. Politicians of neither party are to be trusted to serve the public interest rather than their own.

Beyond that, it makes sense to continue sending financial support to VNP. Having been to one of their town hall meetings, it is my understanding that they are going to expand their efforts to citizens issues beyond gerrymandering. Mentioned at the town hall meeting by participants were the disproportionate effect that lobbyists have on public policy, money in politics and my contribution, the fact that, by attaching a financial appropriation to a law passed by the legislature, a desire by citizens to put the law on the ballot through collecting petition signatures, the referendum process is disallowed. In effect, items that citizens deem desirable are eliminated by a political ploy equivalent to a coup. It happened recently in Michigan.
In closing, it is late at night and I still have to go to the website of VNP and make a small donation. Time to sign off.

Al Churchill
Sun, 04/28/2019 - 11:28pm

Prior to last Novembers' election, this writer sent a couple of bucks to Voters-Not Politicians in order to put an end to cynical Republican gerrymandering. A significant majority of Michigan voters agreed with the direction VNP was taking and, hopefully, district maps will now, more accurately, reflect the wishes of the electorate. That being said, when the politicians in Lansing begin drawing up new maps, it is imperative that they involve VNP deeply, deeply in the process. Politicians of neither party are to be trusted to serve the public interest rather than their own.

Beyond that, it makes sense to continue sending financial support to VNP. Having been to one of their town hall meetings, it is my understanding that they are going to expand their efforts to citizens issues beyond gerrymandering. Mentioned at the town hall meeting by participants were the disproportionate effect that lobbyists have on public policy, money in politics and my contribution, the fact that, by attaching a financial appropriation to a law passed by the legislature, a desire by citizens to put the law on the ballot through collecting petition signatures, the referendum process is disallowed. In effect, items that citizens deem desirable are eliminated by a political ploy equivalent to a coup. It happened recently in Michigan.
In closing, it is late at night and I still have to go to the website of VNP and make a small donation. Time to sign off.

Sondra Johnson
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 8:51am

Our districts must be fair to all and give everyone a vote that counts. All parties must look at the results and make sure they are fairly drawn. It has been shown that many states legislators party numbers do not match up with the vote totals. I’m not sure how Michigan’s numbers look.

David Waymire
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 10:19am

From an AP story in early April: " In Michigan, for example, the AP calculated an efficiency gap score of eight in congressional races and an excess seat of one, meaning Republicans won one more seat than the 7-7 split indicated they should have.

In state House races, the efficiency gap was 10.87 and the number of excess seats was calculated to 11.95, meaning Republicans won 12 more seats than partisan votes indicated they should have to maintain a 58-52 advantage.

Dave Dulio, a chairman of the political science department at Oakland University, said the appeal of measuring an efficiency gap is that it’s relatively simple and that it provides a measurement in court cases where partisan gerrymandering is alleged."

Bob Potocki
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 8:56am

The Chamber of Commerce needs to be held accountable for its deliberate sabotage of our election system. Their millions in consultants deliberately and intentionally undermined the US Constitution. Its plain and simple treason.

Rick
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 4:03pm

YES. The Chamber is unwilling to accept democracy

Paul Jordan
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 9:28am

I think we need a constitutional amendment in Michigan to clearly state that:
(1) All citizens over 18 who are residents of Michigan have an unconditional right to vote, and:
(2) Restricting or conspiring to restrict that right to vote is a felony.

Anonymous
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 11:11am

Amen

Terry
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 8:54pm

Paul Jordan, Are you serious? Even most of the radical dem candidates don't support this. Are you proposing illegal invaders have the right to vote? Murders and violent felons? People without verifiable ID to prevent fraud? Etc. If so I would support a law that restricts voting rights to only those of above a certain threshold IQ level. It's low intelligence persons such as yourself that threaten to destroy our State and nation.

Arjay
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 9:36am

Seems to me that the voters already “fixed” the maps in the 2018 elections. Are some of the districts that switched the party of their representative in 2018 now going to be asked to vote again to possibly switch back?

LLA
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 9:48am

Yes! Yes! Yes! About time. This is GREAT news for ALL Michiganders.

R.L.
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 10:04am

Thank you all for your comments. These changes in voting districts and place to vote are purely political. One more thing. Why does voting have to be one day only with the exception of absente ballads? Why not say two days? Love to hear from you. Peace R.L.

David M Dunn
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 5:06pm

Two days? Sure, and they should be on a weekend. Though I'd be happy if the National elections were done on a National Holiday. Our country should have a much higher percentage of voters than it does. We need to do better.

Pam L.
Sun, 05/05/2019 - 6:32pm

The day to vote was set up back when people traveled by horse and buggy. They set the date in November, after the farmers had harvested their crops, and on Tuesday, because a lot of people had to travel all the day before the election to reach their polling places, and people usually didn't travel on Sunday, unless there was an emergency.

Mary Fox
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 11:09am

I am so sick of Republicans manipulating and buying votes with secrecy laws in Michigan that I will never vote for one in the rest of my lifetime in Michigan or in Federal elections. Buy a vote is all Citizen's United was and now it's a free-for-all for the Right, foreign powers, and churches. Sickening. Thank God there are now some checks and balances--unless Trump and Devos buy more.

Arjay
Mon, 04/29/2019 - 8:27pm

If you look at the case before the Supreme Court, I believe that the Democrats have been accused of gerrymandering in Maryland. Attempts at gerrymandering are not limited to any political party. And please, VNP being non-partisan? Check the source of their funding, and the "religion" of their founder.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 04/30/2019 - 6:03am

The headline is misleading in the fact that it presumes SCOTUS won't make a ruling, either directly or indirectly, in this case.

It will be amusing to see the outrage when that occurs and nothing changes.