Gerrymandered districts help Republicans keep control of Michigan Legislature

Democrats gain in state House, Senate

Michigan Democrats narrowed the Republican majorities in the state Legislature by picking up a net of five House and six Senate seats, mostly on strength in Metro Detroit and Grand Rapids and a number in districts that had backed President Trump in 2016. Click on the map to see how a district voted and how that compared with past elections.

Michigan House

Michigan Senate

Source: Michigan Secretary of State

Michigan’s Democrats scored victories across every statewide office Tuesday, sweeping the top statewide offices, adding a Supreme Court seat and winning multiple chairs at university boards.

They slashed the Republican advantage in the congressional delegation, picking up two seats previously held by the GOP, to draw to a 7-7 split.

But for all their victories, Democrats remain a distinct minority in the state Legislature –  despite picking up over half the votes cast in all state House and Senate races.

Related: Proposal to end gerrymandering resonated in red and blue Michigan

A Bridge Magazine analysis shows the discrepancy largely is because of gerrymandered districts drawn in 2001 and refined in 2011 to reshape the state to Republican advantage.

“Democrats won every statewide election. not just the top statewide races, but all eight of the education boards, and Democrats still could not even get a tie, let alone control of the Legislature,” said Southfield attorney Mark Brewer who is challenging the GOP maps in federal court. He’s also a former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

“That's a durable, powerful gerrymander."

By law, whichever party controls the Legislature after the decennial Census draws the maps, and during the last two cycles, Republicans have been Michigan’s official political cartographer.

Throughout this year, Bridge Magazine has published numerous articles showing the GOP and business interests joined forces in past redistricting efforts to pay for consultants and lawyers to ensure that districts remain some of the most heavily tilted toward Republicans in the nation.

“At the end of the day, those maps tend to favor Republican candidates,” said Arnold Weinfeld, associate director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.

Despite typically getting less than half the votes in statewide races, Republicans had a 63-47 advantage in the House and a 27-11 lead in the Senate going into Tuesday’s election.

Those leads shrunk amid heavy turnout for Democrats, but Republican majorities remain: 58-52 in the House and 22-16 in the Senate.  

In the Senate, statewide Democratic candidates received 50.4 percent of all votes, yet Republicans control 58 percent of Senate seats.

And in Congress, Democrats received 50.7 percent of all votes to the Republicans' 46.2 percent, but could only muster a tie.

“Clearly the way the lines have been drawn have been to give favor the Republican Party,” said Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, which has studied gerrymandering for years.

One way to measure the effect of gerrymandering is something called the “efficiency gap,” which measures how many votes of the minority party are wasted as a result of unfavorably drawn districts.

Anything over 7 percent is considered gerrymandering strong enough to  “to entrench the majority,” according to a formula used, in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, to argue that Wisconsin’s district were unfair.

After Tuesday, the efficiency gap fell from 22.8 percent to 12.8 percent for the state Senate, 15.5 to 11.5 for the congressional delegation, but it rose from 10.1 percent to 10.6 percent for the state House delegation.

Voters want to end gerrymandering

While the Legislature remains in firm Republican control, voters Tuesday also approved Proposal 2 that will take the map-making duties away from legislators and put it in the hands of an independent citizens commission.

The commission is set to begin after the 2020 Census, so the first election with its districts will be 2022.

What the 13-member panel, comprised of Democrats, Republicans and Independents, will find is a state that geographically favors Republicans, Lupher said.

Even though Democrats have swept statewide offices, many of those votes came from relatively small geographic areas –  Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint.

Indeed, excluding Detroit, Republican Tom Leonard on Tuesday would have beaten Democrat Dana Nessel by 60,000 votes to become attorney general.

But Nessel was pushed to victory by a 167,000-vote win in Detroit.

But while those same loyal Democratic voters helped elect more than a dozen House members, typically with 90 percent of the vote, they cannot help a Democrat running for a state house seat in Alpena or Escanaba, Lupher said.

Multiple fronts

On the same week voters spoke at the ballot box about gerrymandering, a federal judge could decide Friday whether a lawsuit can proceed that seeks to declare the 2010 districts unconstitutional.

The League of Women Voters of Michigan is suing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson over the 2011 redistricting, alleging it is unconstitutional. Lawyers for Johnson have sought to dismiss the case, brought by Brewer.

The suit has unearthed a trove of emails showing Republicans met in secret and drew maps to help them win elections for years to come.

One email, from a top aide to former GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, suggested drawing boundaries in southeast Michigan to “cram ALL of the Dem garbage” in four congressional districts. Another bragged a district was drawn to give an incumbent Democrat “the finger,” while consultants vowed the lines would give the GOP a majority for years to come.

“We’ve spent a lot of time providing options to ensure we have a solid 9-5 delegation in 2012 and beyond,” one 2011 email from Robert LaBrant, a retired Michigan Chamber of Commerce executive reads.

(The prediction proved accurate for three election cycles, but Democrats pulled even to 7-7 on Tuesday.)

LaBrant is a founder of the Michigan Redistricting Resource Institute, a dark money group that evidence uncovered in the lawsuit shows paid $1 million in consultant and lawyer fees for the 2011 redistricting.

Lawyers for Johnson have argued the process is apolitical and the emails are out of context. They seek to dismiss the case, arguing the suit has come far too late and the League of Women Voters can’t prove lasting damages.

Bridge reporter Jim Malewitz contributed

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Comments

TJH
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 9:22am

These gerrymandered districts are obviously an assault on the democratic process and intended to diminish the value of the votes cast by the opposition party' but there is another very damaging result of this political trickery. When voters decide to make a change, like we just saw with the sweep of statewide offices by Dems, the new leaders they select are faced with gridlock and obstruction from the legislators who feel comfortable and smug in their safely gerrymandered seats.

Rick
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 1:23pm

And then we had the Michigan Supreme Court try to block the ballot proposal and thanks one brave, honest Republican Justice (Clement) this was not allowed to happen. Incredibly, Justice Kurt Wilder received a LOT of Michigan Chamber of Commerce 'campaign' money (AKA bribes) and yet was allowed to vote instead of recusing himself (unbelievably this is OK under Michigan's laws). He, of course, voted as the Chamber wanted.
Fortunately, voters have voted Wilder off our Supreme Court (hopefully, I notice that the results are still 'unofficial').

Barry Visel
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 9:35am

Does anyone know of a good analysis of why urban areas trend towards democrats while smaller communities and rural areas trend towards republicans?

Alexandra Schmidt
Fri, 11/09/2018 - 12:19pm

Hi Barry,
One of the seminal analyses of how Americans have created self-selected communities of like minded people is a book called The Big Sort, www.thebigsort.com. As the analysis is described on Amazon, "Over the past three decades, we have been choosing the neighborhood (and church and news show) compatible with our lifestyle and beliefs. The result is a country that has become so polarized, so ideologically inbred that people don't know and can't understand those who live a few miles away. How this came to be, and its dire implications for our country, is the subject of this ground-breaking work."

- Alexandra Schmidt, Outreach Coordinator for Bridge Magazine and the Center for Michigan

Jim
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 9:52am

I look forward to the outcome of this suit against the SOS. A fair change in these gerrymander districts can't come soon enough. Assuming a favorable outcome to the suit, the districts could be redrawn before the 2020 elections.

Scott Roelofs
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:11am

In 2016 Hillary Clinton won 8 Michigan counties and President Trump won 75 counties. In 2018 Whitmer won 14 counties to Schuette's 69. Clearly there is a strong political divide between urban/university areas and non-urban areas. Michigan doesn't have an "electoral college" system similar to the federal government. When a handful of Michigan cities can control government I contend that is not good for the state as a whole.

Mark Sloan
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:49am

I contend that allowing thinly populated rural counties to set policy for all of the people of the state is not only bad, but fundamentally undemocratic.

John Q. Public
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 2:09pm

Not to mention unconstitutional. See Reynolds v. Sims and Gray v. Sanders.

Thomas E Graham
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 2:31pm

I contend that your own actions have consequences. When Democrats decide to overwhelmingly live in cities, a benefit is that they control the city governments, the consequence is that they lose control of large urban districts where the population of a huge rural area is equal to the population of a small city area. It absolutely reflects the population of the area and is therefore completely democratic.

John Q. Public
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 2:11pm

Government is for people, not acres, and cities are where the people are.

Marty
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 2:32pm

It's not the "cities" that control government. It's the PEOPLE who vote.

Dragon Slayer
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:15pm

67 counties voted to end gerrymandering so....

Brian
Mon, 11/12/2018 - 7:53am

"Cities" don't cast votes. People do. That more people are concentrated in cities is pretty much the definition of a city.

Rick
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:25am

Waa-waa-waa!!!

Thomas E Graham
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:25am

I can't wait. In 6 years when Democrats lose ANY district they will no longer be able to blame the boogieman of gerrymandering.
Democrats have a tendency to pack themselves into cities, and they control the governments of those cities by high margins. The mathematical consequence of this, combined with laws stating districts must be draw on existing municipal lines, is that urban districts will be won by Democrats by large margins and rural districts will be won by Republicans by small margins.
I hope Bridge keeps these articles as historic documents to catalog the folly.
In 4 years, once the gerrymandering has been eradicated and the state no longer has a black US House district because it was absorbed by 2 or 3 Democrat districts in a non-partisan, non-discriminatory fashion, the "competitive" districts will be created in the rural areas, urban areas will be Democrat strongholds and not competitive at all.
In 6 years all the districts will become non competitive as the political machines find footing in the newly drawn districts, just like it happened in California when they implemented similar silly legislation.
But at least the boogieman of Gerrymandering will be gone and people can start talking about serious topics.

David Waymire
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:09am

One need only look to Pennsylvania to see how fair maps work. In 2011, Republicans who were in controlled gerrymandered the congressional districts so the they got 13 of 18 districts every election even though they split the state vote 50-50. The state Supreme Court stepped in and drew new male this year. Result: 9-9 split, with five districts decided with less than 50 percent of the vote. This is a very serous matter ... as are all challenges to democracy.

David
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:18am

I can't wait, either, Thomas! After learning of the one-party/Republican (million dollar bought consultant and e-mail exposed) skullduggery that has ensured such un-democratic legislative control of our state politics, the newly-approved (popular sovereignty-driven) Prop. 2 will at least provide a fairer and more transparent process for Michiganders. I'm more than hopeful of its success, compared with the hypothetical "California analogy" you've proffered.

Matt
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:53am

That is part of the problem regarding minority districts, According to the Voting Rights Act we still have to create a majority minority district this proposal didn't repeal that law. Second, the US constitution not state law gives the state legislatures the duty to set US congressional districts, does this state proposal amend the US constitution? I doubt it. Let the lawsuits begin!

Thomas E Graham
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 2:37pm

Unfortunately, the SCOTUS ruling simply said that you cannot compact a minority into a single district and you cannot break up a dense group of minorities into two districts.
The black district we have today consists of 3 dense groups which are gerrymandered together using fine lines between them. There is no federal law or ruling requiring these to stay together and because they cause the Democrats problems, I'm pretty certain they will be separated.
A win for Democrats at yet another expense of the black community. Typical.

Matt
Fri, 11/09/2018 - 8:34am

The NAACP and such other minority interest groups have subjugated their racial interests to those of the Democratic party interests long ago.

Arjay
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 12:48pm

November 6, 2024

Michigan’s Republicans scored victories across every statewide office Tuesday, sweeping the top statewide offices, adding a Supreme Court seat and winning multiple chairs at university boards.

They slashed the Democratic advantage in the congressional delegation, picking up two seats previously held by the Dems, to draw to a 7-7 split.

But for all their victories, Republicans remain a distinct minority in the state Legislature – despite picking up over half the votes cast in all state House and Senate races.

A Bridge Magazine analysis shows the discrepancy largely is because of gerrymandered districts drawn in 2022 to reshape the state to Democratic advantage.

See the video posted in another comment. My premise is that no matter how districts are drawn, someone is going to be unhappy and claim that their Constitutional rights are being violated, and by voting in their proposal on redrawing districts, the world will be a better place. Now we all can't pack our bags and move to a place with politics more akin to our liking, and most certainly wouldn't change jobs, friends, neighborhoods, and the house we worked so hard on just because we didn't agree with our representative. Instead, we realize that the world is a very diverse place and we learn to deal with it. So take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy life.

John Q. Public
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 2:01pm

"And in Congress, Democrats received 50.7 percent of all votes to the Republicans' 46.2 percent, but could only muster a tie."

With 50.7 % of the vote, the Ds got 50% of the seats. What percentage do you think they should have that this egregious misrepresentation prevents?

Ray J
Thu, 11/08/2018 - 7:16pm

The Efficiency Gap does not measure gerrymandering.
It measures proportional representation.

Arjay
Fri, 11/09/2018 - 4:51am

So what is worse, gerrymandering to “steal” an election, or outright fraud as practiced in south Florida to “steal” an election. I believe one party would say that one practice is alright, while the other party would say that one practice is alright. Meanwhile, in both cases, it is the people that get the shaft. It is no wonder that politicians rank so low in opinion polls.