Fri. Jun 18th, 2021

Michigan voters in November 2018 chose a new way to map out the state’s federal and legislative political districts. Starting Tuesday, they’ll have the chance to participate in that process in person.

That initiative, put on the ballot by the group Voters Not Politicians, took political redistricting — the process of redrawing Congressional and state House and Senate districts every 10 years based on U.S. Census population data — out of the state Legislature’s hands and created an independent commission to do the job. Supporters argued the change would help prevent gerrymandering to benefit certain lawmakers or political parties and give every Michigan resident more of a say in what their political districts look like.

Members of the 13-member commission made up of five independents, four Republicans and four Democrats were randomly selected last summer from a pool of thousands of applicants and have been meeting periodically for months to work out the logistics of a redistricting structure unlike any Michigan has ever seen before.

They’re now ready to hear from citizens. Through July 1, commissioners will be traveling to conference and event centers throughout the state on Tuesdays and Thursdays to host constitutionally mandated public hearings on what Michigan residents want their political maps to look like.

“This is an entirely new process for the state of Michigan and it’s a very exciting time,” Rebecca Szetela, the commission’s vice-chair, said during a Monday press conference. “The new redistricting process ensures that redistricting occurs in an open and transparent manner with the opportunity for statewide participation.”

Public hearings begin Tuesday

Under the constitutional amendment, commissioners are obligated to hold at least 10 public hearings prior to releasing a draft set of maps. Additional hearings are required after draft maps are released.

The commission scheduled 16 public hearings in various locations throughout the state at this stage, setting a goal of getting at least 10,000 public comments from a mix of in-person and virtual testimony and online submissions.

The hearings will take place 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. To testify virtually at the hearings, residents must sign up by noon the day of the hearing here. In-person commenters have until 8 p.m. the day of the hearing to register to comment.

Public commenters will have up to two minutes to address commissioners. Those attending in person will be subject to COVID-19 precautions, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

Hearing locations include:

  • May 11: Jackson – American 1 Event Center, 128 W. Ganson St.
  • May 13: Kalamazoo – Wings Event Center, 3600 Vanrick Dr.
  • May 18: Marquette – The Northern Center at Northern Michigan University, 1402 Presque Isle Ave.
  • May 20: Gaylord – Treetop Resorts, 3962 Wilkinson Rd.
  • May 25: Midland – Great Hall Banquet & Convention Center, 5121 Bay City Rd.
  • May 27: Lansing – Lansing Center, 333 E. Michigan Ave.
  • June 1: Flint – Dort Financial Center, 3501 Lapeer Rd.
  • June 3: Dearborn – Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, 15801 Michigan Ave.
  • June 8: Novi – Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River Ave.
  • June 10: Pontiac – Centerpoint Marriott, 3555 Centerpoint Pkwy.
  • June 15: Detroit – The Village Dome at Fellowship Chapel, 7707 W. Outer Dr. June 17 Detroit – TCF Center (formerly Cobo Hall), 1 Washington Blvd.
  • June 22: Port Huron – Blue Water Convention Center, 800 Harker St.
  • June 24: Warren – MRCC Banquet Center, 23401 Mound Rd.
  • June 29: Muskegon – VanDyke Mortgage Convention Center, 939 Third St.
  • July 1: Grand Rapids – DeVos Place, 303 Monroe Ave NW

Related: Michigan’s redistricting commission prepares to take in-person input on redrawing political maps

(Can’t see the map? Click here)

How to weigh in

Michigan residents have three main ways to comment on what they’d like to see in their political districts or submit proposed maps at this stage: Show up to one of the hearings in person, sign up to testify virtually at the hearings or submit their proposals through an online public comment portal that went live last week.

Residents without internet access can also mail comments to the commission at MICRC, PO Box 30318, Lansing MI 48909.

Suann Hammersmith, the commission’s executive director, said Monday that residents are welcome to attend or virtually testify at any of the hearings, regardless of where they live. She said the commission will be asking residents to be clear about the community they’re representing and, if the person is discussing a specific community, to draw a proposed map for the commission to view.

A number of websites, including Districtr.org, Representable and Dave’s Redistricting, offer free options for people to draw their own district maps. The commission is accepting proposed maps created by these and other third-party websites.

For more information, Michiganders are encouraged to check out the commission’s website or call 833-968-3729, although formal comments on the redistricting process cannot be taken over the phone.

(Can’t see the map? Click here.)

Redistricting criteria

Once the commission takes public comment on the maps and get full results from the 2020 census, they will work on redrawing maps, and are required to follow a specific series of criteria:

  • Complying with federal requirements, including making each district an equal population size.
  • Making the districts geographically contiguous.
  • Keeping communities of interest together.
  • Not favoring any political party or candidate for office.
  • Considering county, city and township lines.
  • Making the districts reasonably compact.

Once the new maps are drawn, they will be in effect starting in the 2022 election cycle and serve as district boundaries until new maps are drawn using updated census data.

Read the full Constitutional amendment that was adopted in 2018 here.

(Can’t see the map? Click here)

How Michigan got here

The commission was assembled as a result of a November 2018 ballot proposal, Proposal 2, which passed with support from 61% of voters.

Redistricting was previously handled by the Michigan Legislature and approved by the governor, which, Proposal 2 supporters pointed out, allowed politicians to set their own district lines.

Katie Fahey, founder of Voters Not Politicians, initially posted a call to reform Michigan’s redistricting system on Facebook. In 2017, Fahey and other early Voters Not Politicians backers began touring the state, getting feedback from Michigan residents at forums and town halls as they set their sights on crafting an amendment to Michigan’s Constitution.

The language Voters Not Politicians settled upon in Proposal 2 aimed to circumvent politics in the political redistricting process as much as possible.

Elected officials, candidates, lobbyists and political consultants or staffers — as well as family members of politicians or other insiders — are barred from participating on the redistricting commission within six years of their politically affiliated position under the constitutional amendment, and commissioners are randomly selected.

Final maps for congressional and state House and Senate lines require majority approval and support from at least two Republicans, two Democrats and two independents on the commission.

Critics of the initiative fought hard to keep the Voters Not Politicians plan off the ballot, and the legal battle over the proposal went all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court.

In a 4-3 ruling, Supreme Court justices David Viviano, Bridget Mary McCormack, Richard Bernstein and Beth Clement concluded the plan put forward by Voters Not Politicians was not a general revision of the Constitution, and did not negatively impact powers assigned by the three branches of government.

Related: Volunteer movement helped carry redistricting proposal to the ballot

Complicating factors

Michigan’s redistricting commission already had the challenge of being the first body tasked with reapportioning the state’s political districts independently. But census delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and slow population growth are already making a hard task harder.

Apportionment figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau last month indicate Michigan will lose a congressional seat in the redistricting process, dropping from 14 to 13 seats overall.

The state has steadily lost seats in the U.S. House over the last half-century, dropping from 19 representatives to 13 representatives. Michigan’s population grew by 2% since the last count in 2010, but the state’s rate of growth lagged behind most of the country.

The commission is also facing a truncated timeline on the map-drawing process due to a delay in the release of full U.S. Census data.

Under the constitutional amendment, the commission has until Nov. 1 to draw the maps — but the U.S. Census Bureau, citing pandemic-related delays, announced in February that redistricting data won’t be made available to states for months, promising the data by Sept. 30, 2021. That’s after the date commissioners need to have proposed maps available for public comment under the constitutional amendment, which is Sept. 17.

Commissioners are currently petitioning state courts for additional time to draw the maps due to the late census data.

(Can’t see the map? Click here.)

Related coverage:

Michigan independent redistricting commission will seek more time to draw political maps

Michigan redistricting commission could be model for other states, SOS says

What losing a congressional seat means for Michigan

13 commissioners randomly selected to draw new district lines for Michigan House, Senate, congressional seats

Meet the 13 commissioners who will redraw Michigan’s electoral lines