O’Hair Park Community Association
On February 24, I was asked to provide a short presentation on Michigan’s redistricting process to the O’Hair Park Community Association in Detroit. The presentation covers topics such as what redistricting is, the history of redistricting in Michigan and how it came to be, explaining gerrymandering, and explaining what the current and new maps constitute. In addition, updates on the lawsuits against the maps and the independent redistricting commission are provided.
With the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of the 2020 population counts, states have been undergoing the process of redrawing electoral district boundaries, a process known as redistricting. Voters elect members to the U.S. House of Representatives and to both chambers of the state legislature from districts. How voters are grouped into these districts affects who the representatives are and what policies representatives implement.
Depending on the demographic composition of these geographic districts, certain parties might be favored in elections which has implications for who will lead and control government on the state and federal level. As a fundamental part of our democracy, federal and state laws govern the redistricting process. The U.S. Constitution mandates equal representation among districts, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that states provide minority groups an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Most states have secondary guidelines to govern and constrain the redistricting process. The most common requirements are that districts adhere to political boundaries, preserve communities of interest, and be contiguous and compact.
Redistricting can include the practice of gerrymandering, the process drawing boundaries to benefit a particular group or achieve a desired outcome. Michigan is home to some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. In 2018, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan quantified the level of gerrymandering in the state and found that both our congressional and legislative districts are gerrymandered to advantage Republican candidates. Frustrated with the state quo, Michiganders voted to amend the state’s constitution in 2018 to establish a new citizen-led commission for redrawing the state’s districts, taking that power away from the legislature.
This presentation offers a look at what Michigan’s new legislative and congressional maps will look like. These are the first maps to be drawn by the 13-person Independent Redistricting Commission.
One of the major concerns about the new maps deal with the idea that Black representation is being diluted. The new congressional and state legislative maps do away with majority-minority districts in the Detroit area, which has drawn ire from many Detroit lawmakers and prominent Black officials who say the configuration could make it harder to elect Black candidates. Republican lawmakers also allege that there are issues related to the population differences in the new maps, and how lines split up certain counties and municipalities.
The commission had the hard task of balancing the need to comply with the Voting Rights Act, while not providing a disproportionate advantage to any political party. In the process, the commission’s legal advisors said this could be done with less than a plurality of minority voters in a district because voters may still vote for a minority candidate. As it currently stands, no legal challenges against the new maps have succeeded. If that persists, the Michigan Department of State will assign voters to their new districts based on these new maps ahead of the 2022 elections.